Guide To Coping With Menopause Symptoms

Menopause is a natural part of any woman’s life, but that doesn’t make symptoms of menopause any less uncomfortable. Controlling menopause symptoms can relieve common signs of menopause, including hot flashes and urinary incontinence. Monitoring and treating menopause symptoms also lowers the risk of serious and chronic health problems associated with aging and menopause.

Hot Flashes and Menopause

Hot flashes are one of the most common signs of menopause, and one of the most frustrating. Hot flashes often begin in the 12 months after a woman’s last period. While most common one to two years after menopause, hot flashes can endure for five or more years.
While the exact cause of hot flashes is unknown, the most popular theory is that menopause causes changes in hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls body temperature.
The hypothalamus incorrectly decides the body is too hot and takes steps to lower body temperature, including dilating blood vessels in the skin. This causes a red, flushed face and can also cause sweating as blood volume increases in the dilated vessels. After a hot flash some women experience a cold chill, while a small group of women only experience the chill.
Treatment of hot flashes is not always necessary, and in most cases hot flashes dissipate with time. Women can sometimes lower the frequency and intensity of got flashes (and other symptoms of menopause) with regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.
Women sometimes find that specific triggers set off hot flashes and that avoiding these triggers helps control menopause symptoms. Hot flash triggers can include alcohol, hot drinks, hot temperatures and spicy food.
Several medical treatments relieve hot flashes. Estrogen therapy provides relief, but the treatment has been linked to an increased risk of blood clots, breast cancer, heart attack and strokes. Other medications used to relieve hot flashes include venlafaxine, gabapentin and clonidine, although clonidine carries a high risk of adverse side effects.

Urinary Incontinence and Menopause Symptoms

One of the signs of menopause is a loss of tissue elasticity in the vagina and urethra due to lower estrogen and progesterone levels. The weakened tissue can result in sudden and urgent needs to urinate. This can lead to urinary incontinence.
Postmenopausal women may leak urine when they cough, laugh or lift heavy objects. The best solution is to perform regular Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness is one of the common signs of menopause, and can cause discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse. Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can help relieve dryness. In severe cases, prescription vaginal estrogen can be applied directly, either as a tablet, ring or cream. Small amounts of estrogen are absorbed by surrounding tissue, relieving dryness.

Osteoporosis

In the years after menopause women lose bone density. In some cases this leads to osteoporosis – weak, brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures. The risk of osteoporosis lessens in women who don’t smoke and who include strength training in their regular exercise routines. Vitamin D and calcium supplements also help prevent loss of bone density. Women should speak to their doctors to determine about proper supplement doses.
If necessary, osteoporosis caused by menopause can be treated with medication, including estrogen therapy. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are a family of medications that mimic estrogen and may also be used to treat osteoporosis. SERMs may be used if women and their doctors consider the risk of estrogen therapy too great. Other medication options include the drugs alendronate, risedronate, and ibandronate.

Cardiovascular Disease

A woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases after menopause. Women have a risk of heart attacks similar to men, although symptoms differ slightly between the sexes. Like men, women often report chest pain or discomfort, but are also likely to report shortness of breath, anxiety, nausea and lightheadedness.
Postmenopausal women can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by eating a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains. Regular aerobic exercise also helps keep the heart healthy, and, as with so many health conditions, quitting smoking reduced the risk of heart disease.

Emotional Menopause Symptoms

Hormonal changes trigger the physical symptoms of menopause. Some women also experience emotional symptoms, including moodiness, sadness and feelings of loss
While it has been suggested that emotional changes are among the signs of menopause, little evidence supports a connection between emotional symptoms and hormones. Instead, many women have negative assumptions about what menopause means for their fertility and sexuality.
Women may feel a sense of loss during menopause, as they come to terms with the fact that their ability to conceive children has ended. Some see menopause as “the beginning of the end” or the start of their twilight years, even though most signs of menopause start between 45 to 50 years of age, only halfway through a woman’s life.
As for sexuality, menopause symptoms can interfere with sexual enjoyment due to vaginal dryness, but no evidence exists that menopause symptoms include a drop in libido. In fact, some women feel more comfortable with sexuality after menopause, as they no longer need to worry about pregnancy.

Resources

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Menopause. retrieved 12 July, 2011, from
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menopause/DS00119

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2010). menopause. Retrieved 12 July, 2011, from
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001896/

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Women and heart attack. Retrieved 12 July, 2011, from
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/actintime/haws/women.htm

North American Menopause Society. (n.d.). Expert answers to frequently asked menopause questions. retrieved 12 July, 2011, from
http://www.menopause.org/expertadvice2.aspx