The physicians and nurse practitioners at Northside Northpoint OB/GYN have expertise in caring for women at all phases of life. Please allow us to provide you with compassionate, expert care during this time of transition.
Menopause is the time that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is a clinical diagnosis (meaning no blood tests are needed to confirm) that occurs when a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. The average age of menopause is 51. However, it can occur anywhere between the ages of 40 and 58. In general, women who smoke will reach menopause 2 years earlier than those who do not smoke.
Perimenopause refers to the transition time between menstruation and menopause. In the years (yes, it can be years – between 4 and 8 years) prior to menopause, the ovarian production of hormones is less consistent. This lack of consistency can cause irregular periods, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and disturbed sleep. Although the menstrual cycles may be less regular, contraception is still needed during this time.
Post menopause is those years that follow the last menstrual period. Menopause is the point in the time when the menstrual cycles stop. The years after your cycles stop are the post menopause phase of life.
Symptoms Of Menopause
Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, and disturbed sleep. You might notice that these are the same symptoms that may have started in perimenopause. Approximately 75% of women will experience symptoms. Symptoms last on average for 5-7 years.
Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (or GSM) refers to the changes that take place in the tissues of the vagina, the vulva, the urethra, and the bladder. Women may experience discomfort with intercourse as well as urinary symptoms of urgency, dysuria, and recurrent urinary tract infections.
What About Mood?
Many women also experience psychological symptoms such as depressed mood and anxiety during this time of transition. Women with a history of a prior anxiety or mood disorder (including postpartum depression and PMS) are more likely to experience psychological symptoms during the menopause transition. Menopause has been termed a “window of vulnerability.” Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy (or counseling) can be helpful. Although hormone therapy does not have a direct effect on mood, hormones can improve sleep which may result in improved mood. Antidepressant medications can help both with mood and with symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Please discuss your concerns with your provider at Northside Northpoint OB/GYN.
Management of Symptoms
Some common triggers for hot flashes can be stress, alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods. Avoiding these may help.
Keep the core body temperature cool. This can be done by dressing in layers, wearing lightweight clothing, using the air conditioning, sleeping on a cooling pad, and using a ceiling fan.
Focus on lifestyle – women with a BMI (body mass index) of <27 kg/m2 have fewer hot flashes.
Women who exercise regularly also experience fewer hot flashes. Anxiety has been associated with more frequent and severe hot flashes. Stress management can be helpful as well.
Menopause is an undertreated condition. The most effective option for relief of vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes/night sweats) is hormone replacement. This provides the body with the estrogen it is no longer producing. There are many options for estrogen therapy and include both systemic (for the entire body) and local (for the vagina and vulva). Progesterone will also be recommended for anyone who still has a uterus. There are of course risks and benefits to any intervention. For those preferring non-hormonal approaches, there are also many options. The physicians and nurse practitioners of Northside Northpoint OB/Gyn are knowledgeable about all these options and can guide you to reach the right decision for your body.