Menopause brings a whole new set of health problems that are both similar and unique to those experienced during your menstrual cycle.
by The Iowa Clinic in on on Wednesday, February 28, 2018
After living with a menstrual cycle and PMS every month of your adult life, you’d think menopause would bring relief. Instead, you trade your old health problems for new ones.
Goodbye, cramps. Hello, hot flashes.
See you later, headaches. Nice to see you, night sweats.
So long, mood swings. Wait ... those decide to stick around.
Unfortunately, the health side effects don’t retire along with your reproductive system. If you’re looking to cast blame for these unwelcome new health issues, you probably already know where to point the finger.
It’s my hormones, isn’t it?
You guessed it. Your hormones are at it again.
The production of the two hormones that control your reproductive system, estrogen and progesterone, slows down between the ages of 45 and 55. It’s the natural end of your child-bearing years — even if you decided to end that era years ago. Your monthly cycle goes away, and your fertility goes with it.
Without a reproductive system to manage, your body doesn’t need as much estrogen and progesterone. These lower hormone levels cause a number of health issues throughout your body:
- Brain and nervous system – You experience a mix of physical and emotional symptoms like mood swings, memory loss, irritability, hot flashes, fatigue, night sweats, anxiety and depression.
- Urinary system – The lining of your urethra becomes dry, thin and less elastic, leading to frequency, incontinence and urinary tract infections.
- Vagina – The same issues of dryness, thinness and elasticity affect your vaginal tissue, causing inflammation, irritation, discomfort, less lubrication and pain with sex.
Does menopause ever end?
Yes and no.
Once you hit the one-year milestone of life without a period, you’ve successfully made it through menopause. But hold off on the celebration. That milestone also marks the beginning of postmenopausal life, and things don’t just go back to the way they were.
Symptoms can linger for a lifetime. And the continued low estrogen levels lead to more serious health concerns. The rate of bone loss speeds up, increasing your risk of low bone density, osteopenia and osteoporosis. You also have a higher chance of having a heart attack, stroke or other heart-related issue. If you love coffee, sugar, salt, cigarettes or alcohol, your risk for bone and heart issues are even higher.
And I’m supposed to live like that?
That’s the good news! You don’t have to.
Symptoms can be managed in a bunch of ways. But first you need to visit your doctor to diagnose menopause. Your symptoms, age and medical history may be enough to make the diagnosis. If not, your doctor can run a blood test to check your hormone levels. Once you have the official diagnosis, you can work with your doctor to develop a plan to manage your symptoms.
Make lifestyle changes.
Many symptoms can be simply managed by changing things in your daily life. Eat a healthy diet. Exercise regularly. Stop smoking. Quit or limit your drinking. All those things will boost your overall health, while relieving symptoms and lowering your risk for future health problems.
Estrogen is naturally present in many foods — your ovaries aren’t the only source. So you can supplement a healthy, plant-based diet with these foods to help elevate your hormone levels, many of them you probably eat already:
- Dried fruits and ripe fruits like apricots, oranges, strawberries and peaches
- Many veggies, including yams, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, kale and celery
- Tofu and other soy-based products
- Beans and lentils
- Olives and olive oil
- Flax and sesame seeds
- Herbs like thyme, sage and turmeric
Cool your hot flashes.
Hot flashes come and go, but they’re still bothersome — especially if yours happen more frequently or are more severe. Observe the triggers of your hot flashes and try to manage them. Common triggers include stress, heat, cigarette smoke, alcohol, caffeine, tight clothing and spicy foods.
If you have trouble controlling your triggers, your doctor can prescribe estrogen and progesterone treatments to up your hormone levels. Other prescription drugs like antidepressants, antiseizure drugs and blood pressure medications can also help. These treatments can also alleviate other symptoms, including mood swings, depression and anxiety.
Rejuvenate your vagina.
When the act of sex is discomforting, the thought of it is too. But sex may actually save your vagina. Sexual activity increases blood flow to the area, helping to keep it lubricated, preserving the vaginal lining and preventing it from shrinking. Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants and prescription medications can also relieve the dryness and make sex more comfortable until your vagina can produce enough on its own.
If you’ve tried it all and still feel constant discomfort, there are more advanced alternatives. A new laser technique called Mona Lisa Touch® can restore your vaginal health. In a quick, five-minute treatment, laser therapy stimulates the vaginal tissue to produce collagen, improve functionality and restore balance to the mucous membrane.
Vaginal rejuvenation through a procedure like Mona Lisa Touch is a non-hormonal treatment. So you can relieve your discomfort, dryness and other issues down there without the side effects of playing with your hormones yet again.
When your ovaries call it quits, you shouldn’t have to. Low estrogen levels sap your energy and your quality of life. Understand your symptoms, learn your options and talk to your health care team to live the life you want after menopause.