It’s a rite of passage that few women look forward to–menopause. The term refers to both the cessation of one’s menstrual period, and to the time of transition accompanying this event. While many women look forward to the end of feminine hygiene products, few look forward to the hormonal ups and downs that lead to night sweats, hot flashes, and emotional difficulties. Also known as the “change of life,” menopause can be quick and relatively painless or it can be a many-year process.
While menopause typically occurs as a woman ages (it generally occurs between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five), it can also result from surgical procedures that remove a woman’s reproductive organs and therefore creates a hormonal state of menopause. Many of the symptoms of menopause are the same. These can include spot bleeding, hot flashes, memory lapse, mood swings, anxiety and depression, and sexual problems.
In recent years, doctors have prescribed hormone replacement therapy for many women during and after menopause to reduce the risks of developing osteoporosis. The risks of osteoporosis, which is the result of bones weakening from loss of tissue, and heart disease increase after menopause. Hormone replacement therapy replaces estrogen, which is thought to help reduce the risk of disease. However, recently, hormone replacement therapy studies showed that the treatment can actually increase incidents of heart disease and breast cancer and does not help osteoporosis. Since these studies, expert opinions have remained mixed on the use of hormone replacement therapy.
Most experts agree that the best course of action is for a woman to discuss her individual situation with a doctor. A woman can discuss the risks of using or not using hormone therapy with her doctor to make the most informed decision.
In addition to hormone replacement therapy, other treatments for menopausal symptoms include naturopathic remedies, changes in diet, vitamins, and other methods to increase overall feelings of well-being. Again, each woman must decide for herself the best options and the severity of symptoms. Some women cope with certain symptoms of menopause okay, while others are less tolerable. Each individual situation is different, and even a woman’s tolerance of some symptoms may vary from month to month or year to year.
For those seeking alternative treatments, consider working with a naturopathic physician or someone trained in the use of these types of treatments. Many over the counter remedies are ineffective and some may not be safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate nutritional supplements. Some treatments make claims that are exaggerated or unproven, and a woman considering alternative therapies needs to be aware of the ingredients in any supplements.
Generally, the better care a woman can take of her overall health, the better. Remaining physically and mentally active can help offset some of the symptoms of menopause. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, engaging in mentally stimulating activities and spending time with family and friends can make a big difference in how a woman perceives her overall quality of life. These activities can also help a woman feel younger during a time when her body is reminding her that she’s not as young as she once was.
Many resources exist to help a woman deal with menopause, including the medical profession, a wide range of organizations, books, and support groups. Becoming involved with an organization or group can be useful in comparing notes and offering mutual support. Information can also provide a woman with a sense of control when her body is acting out of control. Having tools on hand to deal with the daily fluctuations of menopause can make the transition more bearable.
Menopause does not have to be a time of misery as a woman transitions from one phase of her life to another. Many menopausal women live rich, full, and exiting lives.