Menopause is that inevitable stage in a woman’s life that occurs as we move toward the more mature phases of our life. While it’s not an illness, the symptoms can be severe and warrant attention and treatment. Hormones are the culprit, and they cause the physical symptoms of menopause.
It is a good idea to have your doctor check your level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol) with a blood test. With menopause, FSH levels increase and estradiol levels decrease. Your doctor may also recommend a blood test to determine your level of thyroid-stimulating hormone, because hypothyroidism can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause.
Menopause happens when the ovaries begin making less estrogen and progesterone—believe it or not, the process starts in your late 30s. Fewer eggs are ripening, and ovulation is less predictable. As you enter your 40s, you’ll see changes to your menstrual cycle. It may taper off, or you may menstruate monthly up until your last period. It differs from person to person. More likely, though, you’ll find yourself having less-frequent periods.
By definition, you’ll need to wait until 12 months after your last period to reach menopause by its official definition. Keep in mind, too, that certain risk factors can bring on menopause sooner than expected. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy or premature ovarian failure, you may experience symptoms of menopause. Also know that menopause puts you at risk for chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence and weight gain.
Healthy lifestyle choices can help to promote good health as well as alleviate menopausal symptoms. Be sure to adopt a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Adding calcium-rich foods helps, and since alcohol and caffeine can trigger night flashes, avoiding them altogether can bring some relief.
Regular exercise can help control weight gain and provides an added bonus of putting you in a better mood! But don’t stop at 30 minutes of exercise a day—be sure to practice regular meditation or stress-reducing activities such as yoga to help you relax. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation, can be helpful in relieving menopausal symptoms. You can find a number of books and tapes on different relaxation exercises. Dress in layers and try to pinpoint what triggers your hot flashes. For many women, triggers may include hot beverages, spicy foods, alcohol, hot weather and even a warm room.
The most important thing to remember is that menopause isn’t the end of anything, including your sexuality. Diet, exercise, rest, and medical advice are keys to a gentle transition in this phase in a woman’ life.
Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Definition.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 July 2011. Web. 09 May 2012.