10 questions to ask your doctor about menopause
At some point in a woman’s life she will go through the life transition of menopause. Menopause is when a woman has not a menstrual cycle for one year. It is a normal condition all women will experience as they age and will mark the end of her reproductive years.
Some women will be well-versed on what will happen and what to expect while other women may have little knowledge on how this change will affect her. Every woman’s encounter with this phase of life is unique. For some, they may have few and relatively minor symptoms while other women will have a much more dramatic journey of extreme hot flashes, weight gain, or vaginal dryness.
No matter how menopause treats a woman, there are certain things they should know before they enter this new chapter, things they should discuss with a healthcare professional who can guide them through menopause making the transition as smooth as possible. Here are 10 questions every woman should ask about the change of life:
1. At what age will I go through menopause?
This is a hard question to answer definitively as all women are different. But the majority of women will stop having periods somewhere between ages 45 to 55 with the average age of menopause being 51. But menopause can start years before a woman may even notice any changes. Some women may go through this change in their early forty’s while others may not even begin the stages of menopause until their mid-to late fifties.
What determines what age a woman will go through menopause is often her genetics. Most women will tend to begin this phase around the same age as their mother or sisters. But other factors play a role such as smoking or chemotherapy which can accelerate ovary decline, resulting in early menopause.
2. How is perimenopause different from menopause?
Perimenopause is the period of a woman’s life shortly before the occurrence of menopause. A woman’s body will begin the process of menopause meaning the hormone production from the ovaries is beginning to decline. For some women, this is when they may first experience hot flashes or notice that their menstrual cycle is becoming irregular and different than it used to be. Once a woman has completely stopped having a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months, she has entered into menopause.
3. What kind of symptoms do women have during menopause?
The most common symptom experienced by 75% of all women during menopause is hot flashes. Hot flashes can occur out of nowhere day or night and have been described as a sudden feeling of feverish heat. In addition, some women also experience muscle and joint pain known as arthralgia, and mood swings.
Whether these changes are completely due to menopausal hormonal changes or perhaps simply the aging process itself is unknown.
4. Do all women experience hot flashes the same way?
Each woman may have her own special way of describing a hot flash but generally they feel like your body temperature has risen. They often affect women from the waist up and for some their skin can turn red in color or become blotchy. When they happen, women may also experience sweating, heart palpitations, and feelings of dizziness.
Hot flashes often have no rhyme or reason as to when they occur. They can happen daily and even multiple times a day. Some women only have hot flashes for a few months or up to a year while others may have to suffer with them for years.
To effectively deal with hot flashes, here are some tips to try:
· Avoid triggers of hot flashes – alcohol, caffeine, spicy food, stress, or being somewhere hot
· Lose weight
· Stop smoking
· Dress in layers to help with hot flashes
· Use a fan in your home or office
· Do deep, slow breathing exercise during a hot flash to try to minimize it
· Certain medications such as birth control or hormone therapy may help
5. Does menopause affect bone health?
One chronic medical condition women are prone to is the brittle bone disease of osteoporosis. During menopause, a woman’s estrogen production declines. This affects the amount of calcium in the bones leading to a possible significant decrease in bone density. Osteoporosis makes a woman more susceptible to hip, spine, and other bone fractures since in the first few years after the last menstrual period, many women will have accelerated bone loss.
To prevent or at least slow down the development of osteoporosis, here are ways to keep bones healthy:
· Eat calcium rich foods such as dairy products or dark green leafy vegetables
· Take a vitamin D supplement – consult with a doctor as to what kind and how much
· Exercise regularly including weight training
· Reduce alcohol consumption
· Avoid smoking
· Discuss with a doctor about any prescription medications to prevent bone loss
6. Does menopause increase the risk of heart disease?
It is possible that certain conditions related to the heart can occur during menopause. These would include dizziness or heart palpitations. As estrogen levels decline, arteries may become less flexible which can reduce blood flow. It is very important for a woman to pay attention to eating a nutrient dense diet, to exercise and to avoid smoking, all helping to reduce her chance of developing heart disease.
7. Why do some women gain weight during or after menopause?
The biggest factors that tend to determine if a woman gains weight during this time can be attributed to changes in hormone levels but also aging as well. Once again, focusing on choosing healthy foods, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and steps to reduce stress can all have a positive impact on preventing excess weight gain.
8. Do women who’ve had a hysterectomy know if they are going through menopause?
If a woman had her uterus surgically removed through a hysterectomy, she may not know if she is going through menopause unless she experiences hot flashes. Another procedure some women may have is called endometrial ablation which is the removal of the lining of the uterus as a treatment for heavy menstrual cycles. They also may not know if they are going through menopause.
To determine if the ovaries are functioning or not, a blood test can be done. The blood test will tell a doctor what a woman’s estrogen levels are and if she has transitioned into menopause.
9. Is hormone replacement safe for managing menopausal symptoms?
There can be risks and benefits from using hormone replacement therapy and every women needs to consult with her doctor on what is right for her. Much of the decision is based on the severity of hot flashes, bone loss and a woman’s overall health. These therapies must be weighed carefully as they are not for every woman.
10. What about nonhormonal options for managing menopausal symptoms?
There can be lifestyle changes a woman may try that might possibly relieve many symptoms. These include:
· Losing weight if overweight
· Regular, consistent exercise
· Avoiding triggers of hot flashes such as certain foods that aggravate them
· Wearing clothing composed of cotton and wearing layers
· Herbal therapies
· Over-the-counter lubricants or estrogen creams for vaginal dryness