The most frequent questions this month asked about menopause. Although many of you are younger, you can begin taking care of yourself to prevent some of the complications of menopause.
The Transition Years
Some of us will go through these transition years with hardly a thought and no physical problems, for others it may be a pretty rocky transition. Unlike our grandmothers’ and mothers’ time, today there is so much more information available and many more aids to get us through with a minimum of problems.
Menopause technically means when menstruation ceases. Perimenopause is the transition phase between regular menstrual periods and no periods at all. Most of the symptoms people relate to menopause actually occur during perimenopause and only some of them will continue after menopause. Once the body adjusts to the lack of estrogen hormone, many of the symptoms will subside naturally. Most of us will live a full 1/3 of our lives after menopause. Menopause is a season, not a disease.
As our bodies begin to produce less estrogen, we may begin to have irregular periods. They may be shorter or longer than usual with heavier or lighter in flow. The periods will go from occasionally missing one to no periods at all. This process usually takes several years to complete. Most women begin this transition between 45-55 years of age.
Even before a woman notices that her periods are decreasing, she may begin having mood swings or anxiety and depression. Women who may never have had problems with premenstrual tension may suddenly find their emotions hard to control. Short term memory may also be affected.
The symptom that gets the most press is hot flashes. Sudden flushing of the upper body with heavy sweating and a bright blush can be annoying in the daytime, but even worse when interrupting sleep. Many women suffer with sleep deprivation because of night sweats severe enough to necessitate changing clothes and sometimes even bed linens.
Decreased estrogen also affects the pelvic region physically. The vagina becomes drier making intercourse more difficult. The supporting tissues become weaker making bladder control harder.
Finally, the symptom many of us lament the most is weight gain or the increased difficulty of keeping weight under control. Only a rare woman will get through these years without her middle expanding.
The Most Serious Health Risks
Osteoporosis, weakening of the bones, and heart disease are the most serious long term health risks related to menopause. Osteoporosis causes compression fractures of the vertebrae in 25 percent of women over 60. And 50 percent of 75 year old women have broken a bone somewhere in their body. Heart disease in women after menopause is almost equal to men’s risk at that age.
Many of the things we can do to reduce our risks of one of these diseases also reduce our risk of the others.
The Good News
There are some simple things we can do to make this transition as easy as possible.
- Exercise. Weight bearing exercises like walking or jogging done for 30 minutes five times a week increase circulation for a healthy heart and help build bones to prevent osteoporosis. Walking helps keep weight under control, and a nice walk reduces stress and helps with our attitudes too.
- Foods we eat. Decrease the amount of fat, sugar and salt and increase the amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Reducing the amount of caffeine you take helps heart health and calcium absorption for strong bones. As our metabolism decreases with age so should our calorie intake to control weight gain.
- Drink lots of water. Water will keep your kidneys functioning well and reduce the risk of bladder infections. Living in hot climates makes this even more important.
- Monthly breast self exam. While your periods are still regular, it is best to do the self exam on the first day after your period has stopped. When your periods become irregular or stop, do the self exam on the first day of each month. The following site will give you the directions for the breast self exam, if you are not sure how. www.families-first.com
- Hormone therapy. Make a doctor’s appointment and talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy and its benefits or risks for you. Hormone therapy or estrogen therapy (if you have already had a hysterectomy) will significantly reduce the symptoms of menopause such as, hot flashes and mood swings. It also greatly reduces your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Statistics show only a slightly higher risk of breast cancer using hormones and the benefits far outweigh the risks for most women. If one type of hormone therapy doesn’t work well for you, talk to your doctor. There are a wide variety of choices and a different dosage or combination can reduce the side effects and increase the benefits.
- Don’t be afraid to change doctors. Many doctors do not keep up with the newest treatments and information about menopause. Your doctor may have been very good for pregnancy and delivery, but may not want to spend the time with you that may be necessary to balance your medications or treatments.
- Your doctor will also prescribe a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. Early detection of breast cancer has greatly increased the survival rate.
Calcium. Before menopause a woman needs 1,000 mg of calcium daily and after menopause 1,500 mg. 8oz of milk provide 300 mg., 1 oz. of cheese about 350 mg., 4 oz. of tofu or 1 cup of dark green vegetables have about 150 mg. each. Most of us will have a hard time getting enough calcium through our diet alone, so we should be taking a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate is the best source of calcium. Your body, however, only uses 40% of the calcium in these supplements. So if your tablet has 1,000mg, your body is only getting 400 mg. benefit. So be sure to take enough supplement.
- Vitamin Supplements. A good multivitamin supplement with minerals helps make up for any nutritional lack.
- Vitamin E is helpful for heart health, for the skin and to keep the vagina moist. Water soluble ointments can make intercourse more comfortable as well.
- Pelvic Muscle Exercise. There is a simple exercise to strengthen the pelvic muscles to help with bladder control. Go to the following site for a description of the exercise.Kegel Exercise
- Mood swings, memory problems, and anxiety/depression can range from minor to severe. There are some things you can do to deal with minor, temporary mental symptoms.
- Talk with those you love so they can be supportive while you make the necessary changes.
- Talk to other menopausal women, you’ll find out you’re not alone.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh over the crazier moments.
- Get the rest you need. If your sleep at night is interrupted, don’t expect to get a full day’s work out of yourself the following day. Give yourself permission to rest when necessary.
- See a doctor. Hormone replacement therapy may be all you need for a more peaceful perimenopausal period.
- If these don’t work or the mental symptoms get more severe, see a counselor. Don’t try to tough this out on your own. The toll can be great on yourself and those around you.
Above all else, keep your relationship with God in good condition. Take the time for spiritual refreshment and times of reflection. God made us and wants to bless us with the strength and health we need for every day He has planned for us. Isa. 46:4 says, “I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior.”
I am always encouraged by the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He knows about this change of life and He won’t leave us to suffer alone. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Look to Him for the wisdom you need to make healthy, happy choices.