The Women's Health Resource Center
Menopause is a natural life event that begins for most women between the ages of 45 and 55, and is preceded by a decline in the production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. It has two stages, perimenopause and post-menopause.
Perimenopause varies in duration from several months to several years. During this stage, women may experience irregular menstrual cycles or varying light and heavy menstrual flow. This may also be accompanied by symptoms that range from bothersome to very distressing, including hot flashes, insomnia, excessive vaginal dryness, night sweats, drop in libido, mood swings and depression. Women may experience a combination of symptoms or no symptoms at all.
Post-menopause occurs after a woman's menstrual periods have stopped for 12 consecutive months. All post-menopausal women face increased risks of osteoporosis, heart disease and heart attacks, due to the lack of estrogen production. Self-care can help you reduce many menopausal symptoms, as well as decrease risks of disease. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to replace estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, may be very beneficial for some women during this time of life.
Studies have suggested that estrogen replacement therapy alleviates most perimenopausal symptoms and may prevent osteoporosis and reduce your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, colon cancer and osteoarthritis.
Women should know the benefits and risks of HRT. When estrogen is given alone, it can sometimes cause an overgrowth of the lining of the uterus, which may lead to uterine cancer. To help decrease this risk, a second hormone, progesterone, is often prescribed with estrogen. Women who no longer have a uterus are not affected by this risk. In addition, testosterone may be suggested to help increase energy and sexual libido. The data regarding the relationship between breast cancer and estrogen are conflicting.
The decision regarding the use of HRT is one that you need to make in consultation with your health care provider. Together, you can make a decision that is right for you.
You can also take self-care measures to reduce discomfort from some of the common symptoms. These include dietary changes, nutritional supplements, exercise, stress management and support groups. Complementary medicine strategies have not been scientifically documented to measure effectiveness and should only be taken under the guidance of experienced complementary medicine specialists. These options include homeopathic remedies, biofeedback, acupuncture and massage.
For more information on mid-life health and treatment options contact the Women's Health Resource Center at 415-600-0500, the Community Health Resource Center at 415-923-3155 or the Institute for Health and Healing at 415-600-3660.
What you can do…
For Hot Flashes
- Avoid red wine, chocolate, aged cheeses, caffeine, alcohol, spicy or acidic foods and white sugar.
- Practice slow, deep breathing.
- Wear loose clothing and use cotton bedding and nightclothes. Keep a fan at the bedside.
- Take 400-800 IU of Vitamin E daily.
- Increase you intake of soy products to 1-2 servings a day of tofu, soy milk or soybeans.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
- Exercise 4-5 hours before you go to sleep.
- Practice relaxation exercise including yoga, meditation, massage, deep breathing, stretching and listening to music.
- Avoid decongestants.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Limit alcohol.
- Avoid deodorant soaps, hygiene sprays, douches, antihistamines, coffee and alcohol.
- Dry thoroughly after showering. Wear cotton crotch underwear and hose.
- Exercise frequently to increase circulation to pelvic area.
- Use lubricants to increase vaginal moisture, including almond, coconut or Vitamin E oil, or water-soluble products such as Replens®, Astroglide®, glycerin and KY® jelly.