Menopause is a natural life occurrence that all women will experience as hormonal changes cause the menstrual cycle to stop. Menopause can happen as a woman reaches ages 40 to 50, although the average age in the United States is 51.
While emotional and physical symptoms may accompany menopause, there are treatment options available to help ease the symptoms.
Women are diagnosed with menopause after they’ve gone a year without a menstrual period and are no longer fertile. Women may experience symptoms of menopause in the years or months leading up to it. This phase is caused perimenopause, which starts when a woman’s ovaries cut back on the production of estrogen and progesterone, and release eggs less often.
During perimenopause, symptoms may include hot flashes, irregular periods, chills, mood changes, night sweats, weight gain, thinning of hair, and loss of breast fullness.
Menopause can happen sooner for some women, including those who smoke or have experienced cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapies can interfere with hormone levels and lead to early menopause. If a woman has her ovaries removed, or if the ovaries aren’t producing normal levels of female hormones, this can result in early onset of menopause.
A study found that 80 percent of women who experience menopause reported no decrease in quality of life, according to the North American Menopause Society.
However, menopause can lead to an increased risk for osteoporosis, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, decreased desire for sex and discomfort during sexual activity. Women can also experience a frequent urge to urinate and urinary tract infections.
While symptoms of menopause are usually enough to diagnose it, a physician may also conduct a blood and urine test to detect changes in hormone levels. Treatment may be necessary if symptoms interfere with daily activities.
When experiencing menopause, you can help relieve symptoms by avoiding caffeine and alcohol, exercising daily, keeping rooms at a cooler temperature, dressing in layers so you can remove layers when needed, undergoing acupuncture or participating in yoga.
If symptoms persist or are severe, medical treatment may be necessary, including hormone therapy, vaginal estrogen, low-dose antidepressants, or prescribed medications to help reduce hot flashes, and prevent and treat osteoporosis.
If you are going through menopause and are not experiencing relief from symptoms, contact your physician about treatment options, risks and benefits. If symptoms are still present, it may be a sign of a more serious problem that your physician will help address.
Dr. Jessica Pennington is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.