Menopause is a time of great change for women’s bodies. It marks the end of your reproductive years, which leads to fluctuations in hormone levels that manifest themselves in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally. Practicing some menopause self-care can help you navigate this season of life.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural medical condition that occurs in a woman’s life when she is at the end of her reproductive life. It officially begins when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.
Before fully entering menopause, women go through a transitional period called perimenopause, which often begins several years before menopause. During this phase, your ovaries produce fewer eggs and less estrogen. This leads to irregular periods – however, it is still possible to become pregnant when you are perimenopausal. Most women begin this phase in their mid-40s, but it can happen as early as their mid-30s.
Some common perimenopause symptoms include:
- Heavier or lighter periods
- Irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Incontinence and frequency of urination
- Vaginal dryness
- Night sweats
Once you have not experienced a period for at least 12 months in a row, you are considered menopausal or postmenopausal. The average age for women to experience this in the United States is 51, but you can enter menopause at a younger age. Additionally, because your body produces very little estrogen, you are no longer able to become pregnant.
Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Changes in mood
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of breast fullness
- Thinning hair and drying skin
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain and slower metabolism
What causes menopausal symptoms?
Although it may not feel that way for some, symptoms of menopause gradually begin. Each woman’s body is different, so symptoms may be more or less noticeable – at least at first – depending on how your body reacts to the changes.
These symptoms are a result of your ovaries producing less and less estrogen, which has an effect on your menstrual cycle, lactation after pregnancy, bone health, skin, hair, pelvic muscles and even the brain. Low estrogen levels can also increase your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
Are there treatments for menopause?
While there are no treatments for menopause itself, your provider may recommend one or more medications to treat the unwanted side effects of the condition.
Some of these include:
- Bone health medication: You lose bone mass as you approach and go through menopause, so you may be prescribed a medication or supplement to prevent additional bone loss or osteoporosis, which can put you at risk for fractures.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Estrogen hormone therapy can be used to reduce hot flashes.
- Hot flash medication: Other medications, such as a low-dose antidepressant, can also treat hot flashes.
- Vaginal estrogen: Using an estrogen cream, tablet or ring may reduce vaginal dryness.
What makes menopause worse?
You can’t avoid going through menopause. And while you can treat some of your symptoms to improve how you feel, you can also inadvertently make them worse. Things that can make menopause symptoms worse include excessive alcohol consumption, spicy foods, caffeine and processed foods.
Menopause self-care tips
While much of what you hear and read about menopause involves your physical health, your mental health is just as important as your body changes. Following a menopause self-care regimen may help you feel physically and mentally better.
- Stay cool: Hot flashes are one of the most frequent perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms women report experiencing. Choosing clothes that are breathable, dressing in layers that you can remove and replace and using a portable fan can provide relief while you’re feeling too warm.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water not only cools you down during hot flashes, but it also helps you regulate your body temperature more efficiently.
- Exercise regularly: Moving your body has a list of positive effects on you physically and mentally. Getting regular exercise relieves stress, builds strength, gives you more energy, helps with weight maintenance and promotes good, restful sleep. Women should get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
- Get enough sleep: Similar to regular exercise, ensuring you get plenty of sleep is critical to taking care of yourself. Catching seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night helps prevent weight gain and boosts your mood.
- Stay connected with others: You’re going through a lot during menopause. That can take a toll on your mental health. Keeping in touch with friends, family and other acquaintances may make you feel less alone as you process these changes and help you to deal with any mood swings you might experience.
- Adjust your lifestyle realistically: As we age, our lives change. Many of us don’t have the same routines and interests in our late 40s as we did in our mid-20s. While you don’t have to completely overhaul your life just because you’re going through menopause, making some lifestyle choices like an exercise regimen, drinking less alcohol and eating better may help you feel better.
- Consider hormone replacement therapy: Many of the symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in hormone levels, specifically estrogen. Hormone replacement therapy infuses the body with these hormones that your body no longer produces at higher levels. This can lead to decreasing hot flashes and sweating, fewer mood swings, increasing vaginal moisture and preventing bone fractures.
Stay in touch with your doctor
One of the most important ways you can practice menopause self-care is talking to your doctor. While what you may be experiencing in menopause is normal, maintaining an open line of communication with your doctor can help you manage symptoms, prevent injury and identify any health concerns before they become a problem.