Menopause and Perimenopause: What You Need to Know
Menopause is a normal part of life. It is one step in a long slow process of aging. For most women it begins silently somewhere around the age of 40 when menstrual periods may start to become less regular. Declining levels of hormones, estrogen and progesterone cause changes in your periods. These hormones are important for keeping the vagina and uterus healthy, for normal menstrual cycles and for a successful pregnancy. Estrogen also helps keep bones healthy. It helps women keep good cholesterol in their blood.
Symptoms of perimenopause start two-four years before the last period. When a woman notices her menstrual cycles are less regular, she may also feel such symptoms as hot flashes or night sweats. Changing hormone levels can cause a variety of symptoms that may last from a few months to a few years or longer. Some women have slight discomfort or worse. Others have little or no trouble. If any of these changes bother you, check with you nurse-midwife.
The most common symptoms are:
- Changes in your period
- Hot flashes
- Problems with your vagina or bladder
- Sexual changes
- Mood changes
- Changes in your body
After Menopause: Staying Healthy
How Can I Stay Healthy After Menopause?
Staying healthy after menopause may mean making some changes in the way you live.
- Don't smoke. If you do use any type of tobacco, stop-it's never too late to benefit from quitting smoking.
- Eat a healthy diet-one low in fat, high in fiber, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods, as well as all the important vitamins and minerals.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet or in vitamin/mineral supplements.
- Learn what your healthy weight is, and try to stay there.
- Do weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, or dancing, at least 3 days each week for healthy bones. But try to be physically active in other ways for your general health.
- Take medicine to lower your blood pressure if your doctor prescribes it for you.
- Use a water-based vaginal lubricant (not petroleum jelly) or a vaginal estrogen cream or tablet to help with vaginal discomfort.
- Get regular pelvic and breast exams, Pap tests, and mammograms. You should also be checked for colon and rectal cancer and for skin cancer. Contact your doctor right away if you notice a lump in your breast or a mole that has changed.
Are you bothered by hot flashes?
Menopause is not a disease that has to be treated. But you might need help with symptoms like hot flashes.
Here are some ideas that have helped some women:
- Try to keep track of when hot flashes happen-a diary can help. You might be able to use this information to find out what triggers your flashes and then avoid it.
- When a hot flash starts, go somewhere cool.
- If night sweats wake you, try sleeping in a cool room or with a fan on.
- Dress in layers that you can take off if you get too warm.
- Use sheets and clothing that let your skin "breathe."
- Have a cold drink (water or juice) when a flash is starting.