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Midlife: Managing the Menopause

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 8 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Menopause Perimenopause Hormone

While some women seem to skate through menopause with very little discomfort, the majority of middle aged women experience some level of disquieting symptoms during perimenopause and the menopause. There are steps, however, that women can take to make their menopausal years more comfortable.

Understanding Perimenopause and the Menopause

As women reach midlife, their ovaries begin making less oestrogen and progesterone, causing menstrual irregularities and for many women, a variety of hormone related symptoms. These changes can occur naturally while women are in their thirties, but most often, noticeable changes do not begin until the forties.

The menopause has officially happened once a woman has not had a period in one full year, while the symptomatic years proceeding are referred to as perimenopause. Perimenopause typically lasts 4-6 years, but can go on for as long as ten years.

Menopausal Symptoms

The symptoms of menopause differ from woman to woman, but there are a few that are common to most. The majority of midlife women experience hot flushes, though their frequency and intensity can vary greatly. Some perimenoapusal women have only the occasional hot flush, while others find that their lives are disrupted by an unending barrage of heat filled moments.

In addition to hot flushes, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, diminished libido, insomnia and mood swings are commonplace, though some experts believe that some of these menopausal symptoms result from hot flushes, rather than be directly related to the hormonal fluctuations of the menopause.

For instance, nighttime flushing can disrupt sleep, which in turn may cause a woman to be anxious and irritable, which can certainly have a negative impact on her desire to be intimate.

Many women complain of symptoms that while associated with the menopause, may seem unrelated at first glance. Memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, dizziness, thinning hair, breast tenderness, and even tinnitus (ringing in the ears) may be experienced by menopausal women, but these symptoms usually subside as the years progress and hormone levels stabilise.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices and the Menopause

The menopausal years can be made somewhat easier if women make conscious choices to attend to both their physical and emotional needs. Eating well is more important then ever, and fresh, whole foods should make up the bulk of the diet, providing necessary nutrients for optimal health and well being.

In addition to choosing wholesome foods, there are things that are best avoided or at least kept to a minimum. Caffeine can increase anxiety, so consumption should be kept to just a few cups of coffee per day for those that can tolerate it, but some women may find the need to eliminate caffeine altogether during this transition. Spicy foods can also bring on hot flushes in some women.

Exercise is important at all stages of life, but can be especially beneficial to women during perimenopause and after the menopause. Aerobic exercise helps to protect the cardiovascular system, and women need to pay special attention to heart health once they lose the protection that oestrogen provides.

In addition to enhancing physical health, regular exercise can alleviate mild to moderate depression and anxiety, making it a simple and effective tool for managing the emotional symptoms of midlife. Stress relieving practices such as meditation and yoga are favoured by many middle aged women.

Medical Help for Menopausal Symptoms

While small percentages of women glide through midlife with few bothersome symptoms, most feel the need to seek some type of assistance in minimising their menopausal discomfort. A visit to the GP is a good place to start, which can not only rule out any medical conditions, but when it is advisable, the GP may recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for at least a short time.

HRT does come with certain risks, but some women with no medical history that would prohibit their use find that prescription hormones provide them with relief from menopausal symptoms.

Herbal Remedies and the Menopause

While hormone replacement therapy may be the answer for some women, there are others who either should not or prefer not to utilise HRT. For some of these women, herbal remedies may be the answer. For example, Black Cohosh has been widely used to achieve a natural balance of hormones, as has natural progesterone. Dong Quai and sage may ease hot flushes, and those who experience mild depression may find St. John’s Wort to be helpful.

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