Menopause is a natural part of the aging process for women, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The symptoms of menopause can range from mild to severe. When symptoms are pronounced, they can negatively affect a woman’s quality of life. Pulse spoke with
Barbara Schulz, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist, regarding strategies to reduce the physical and emotional impact that menopausal symptoms can have on daily living.
What is Menopause?
Dr. Schulz describes menopause as the cessation of menstrual periods for one year. The average age menopause occurs is 51. Some women can have menstrual cycles up to the age of 59; others can experience menopause years earlier due to surgery, chemotherapy or for unknown reasons.
Symptoms of Menopause
Symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, night sweats, frequent waking, moodiness, emotional hypersensitivity, vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. Dr. Schulz states that a woman may not have all the above symptoms; some experience only a few, while others can have many symptoms simultaneously.
Curbing The Symptoms of Menopause
Daily exercise and eating a nutritionally balanced diet is good for overall health and can help ease some symptoms. “Doing these won’t take care of all of it,” says Dr. Schulz. She states that symptoms can be treated “globally” by administering oral medication, known as HRT (hormone replacement therapy). Taking HRT will help improve all the menacing symptoms of menopause. HRT may not be recommended if a patient has a personal or family history of breast cancer. If a patient is averse to taking HRT, her symptoms can be “pieced out” and treated individually as illustrated below.
Sleep disturbances can be treated in various ways, describes Dr. Schulz. Options include prescription sleeping pills or an antihistamine to induce drowsiness. The over-the-counter preparation melatonin may also help improve sleep quality.
Some women experience heightened emotional sensitivity. The drug bupropion, known by the brand name Wellbutrin, is an antidepressant that can help reduce the feelings of extra sensitivity, says Dr. Schulz.
Dr. Schulz states that the prescription drug venlafaxine (also an antidepressant and known by the name brand of Effexor) can help mitigate hot flashes. Other remedies such as soy and black cohosh can be used, but they may not be as effective as a prescription medication.
Vaginal Dryness/Painful Intercourse
Dr. Schulz says vaginal dryness can cause daily irritation. The vaginal wall also loses its elasticity. Both symptoms can cause painful sexual intercourse. A prescription for estrogen vaginal suppositories can greatly improve both, allowing for increased comfort during intercourse.
Dr. Schulz stresses the importance of having an annual pelvic exam, a pap test to check for cervical cancer, a breast exam and a mammogram. The yearly exam is when skin cancers of the vulva and vagina can be detected. She advises that women receive a bone density test every two years at the start of menopause. She says that some women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass during their first two years of menopause, highlighting the necessity of getting enough vitamin D and calcium and engaging in resistance types of exercise to help maintain bone mass.