October is Menopause Awareness Month, a month to come together to raise awareness of menopause, the symptoms associated with it, and the support options available to those experiencing it. We encourage women to embrace this milestone phase of life rather than solely suffering through it. Our providers at Essex County OB/GYN understand menopause and are here to help you through your experience. To address the most common menopause concerns, we spoke to Andrea Twomey, PA-C, a Physician Assistant at our practice.
What is menopause?
Menopause is defined as the time when the ovaries stop producing eggs, produce less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation stops. It is reached when menstruation has stopped for 12 consecutive months. Most people will become menopausal between ages 45 and 55. Before menopause onset, one will experience perimenopause, the transitional stage leading up to menopause which begins, on average, 4 years before the final menstrual period.
Common signs of menopause include irregular periods, hot flashes, changes in mood, and more. Every woman will experience menopause in a unique and individual way. Let’s dive into a few common concerns and misconceptions associated with them.
Hot flashes are one of the many common symptoms of menopause. Women can become so hot they are sweating through their shirts one minute, and the next minute they feel cold as ice. Many women think there is nothing they can do about their hot flashes and they just need to suffer through them like a right of passage, but this is not true!
The most effective way to treat hot flashes is hormone therapy. Estrogen will help alleviate the discomfort of hot flashes, but it is important to weigh the risks and benefits before taking hormones. The FDA recently approved a new oral medication specifically for the treatment of moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes) which is a promising alternative therapy for patients who are not able to take hormones. Talk to your healthcare provider to find the best course of treatment for you, since treatment should be tailored to each individual person. Other prescription medications such as antidepressants and anti-seizure medication may also help minimize hot flashes. In addition to medication, the following lifestyle changes may help you better manage your hot flashes:
- Dressing in layers
- Avoiding alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine
- Maintaining healthy weight
Women experiencing menopause often come in complaining that vaginal dryness makes sex painful or impossible, and they are sometimes embarrassed to talk about it. Patients are always worried they can’t enjoy good sex after menopause and that their sex life is dead. Not true! The following remedies can help decrease your vaginal dryness and increase your comfort levels:
- Vaginal moisturizers, which can be either internal or external
- Estrogen creams or tablets
- Vaginal rings, which release low doses of estrogen over a period of 90 days
Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your provider. We are all here to support you and help you find your best course of treatment.
Women are frequently frustrated by how menopause can change their bodies. They feel it’s impossible to lose weight, they gain weight unexpectedly, or they have developed “menopause belly”. Despite these concerns, menopause ≠ weight gain. It is a natural part of aging, but there are ways to maintain your physical health. Make sure you move! Exercise and any physical activity will help you build muscle and keep a healthy weight. Strength training becomes even more important as we age. Additionally, be mindful of your diet. Try to eat more protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains and less processed foods or sugary snacks and beverages. During this time of change, seek and surround yourself with a group of people who support you and your lifestyle goals.
Menopause is the most common cause of osteoporosis, which is a condition where bones become weak. Estrogen helps slow down the natural breakdown of bones. When estrogen levels decrease during menopause, bone loss speeds up. This bone thinning is associated with increased risk of fractures and associated morbidity. There are things you can do to help prevent bone loss and treat osteoporosis, including medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes.
Women with underlying conditions, a family history of heart disease, or even no history of heart disease, have heard about the risks of cardiovascular disease associated with menopause. Don’t worry there are things you can do to mitigate these risks. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet will help reduce the risk of heart disease. Regular screening with your healthcare provider will help you identify risks early and begin a treatment plan that works for you.
How Essex County OB/GYN Supports Women During Menopause
Here at Essex County OB/GYN, we can support women dealing with any and all complications associated with menopause. We listen to our patient’s concerns and partner with them to determine which treatments are right for them given their unique medical history, risk factors, and specific complaints. We help guide them to the best non-hormonal or hormonal treatments accordingly.
Talking to a professional about your symptoms is important to finding the best treatment plan to improve your quality of life. Contact us today to book an appointment.