Getting older can suck. Enduring the symptoms of menopause is a key reason why. When women’s bodies begin this transition, they can experience everything from emotional shifts, vaginal dryness, muscle and joint aches and pains, and the frequent need to pee, to name a few. Luckily, the symptoms of menopause are treatable. There’s no reason for you to have to go through these bodily shifts without help. You deserve to continue living an easy, sexually healthy life before, during, and long after menopause. In this post, we’ll discuss what menopause is, how it impacts your body, and how you can treat its symptoms.
What is Menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It occurs most often for women between ages 45 and 55, but can also be triggered by a hysterectomy, when your hormone producing ovaries are removed. Overall, the menopause process typically lasts from 7-14 years and occurs in three stages:
- Perimenopause – Perimenopause occurs several years before menopause. At this stage, your ovaries are still releasing eggs, but your periods are becoming spotty or infrequent. You’re also making less estrogen and may be beginning to experience some menopause symptoms – especially in the last 1-2 years of perimenopause
- Menopause – Menopause officially occurs when it’s been 12 months since your last period. At this point, your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs
- Postmenopause – In the years after menopause you’ll still be experiencing symptoms, but they get easier over time. However, you’re now subject to health risks related to your loss of estrogen
Symptoms of Menopause
There are roughly 34 symptoms of menopause, and they’re usually more prevalent for 4-5 years before they decrease in frequency and intensity. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Joint and muscle aches and pains
- Decreased libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Breast soreness or burning
- Frequent need to pee
Each of these symptoms is treatable, so let’s go down the list: Hot Flashes and Night Sweats Taking estrogen is the best way to treat these symptoms – provided that this isn’t a risky treatment option for you. If it is an appropriate treatment, we recommend starting within 10 years of your last period or before you turn 60. Women who have had a hysterectomy can take estrogen alone. If you haven’t, you should take it with progesterone to protest against cancer of the lining of the uterus. Antidepressants in low-dose form can also treat hot flashes and night sweats, but they are less effective. Joint and Muscle Aches and Pains The cause and effect of menopause and joint pain hasn’t been officially established, but experts are pretty certain that they’re linked. One key reason why is because pain, swelling, and inflammation in the joints is a sign of osteoarthritis, which disproportionately affects women in menopause. Here are a few ways to manage these aches and pains:
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods – including chocolate, nuts, fatty fish, and foods rich in Omega 3s. Adding herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon do your diet also helps
- Exercise – this is probably the last thing you want to do if you’re sore, but regular movement lubricates your joints and strengthens the muscles that surround and support them
- Stay hydrated – drink water, and lots of it
- Supplements – supplement rich in magnesium will usually help because magnesium strengthens bones and maintains joint cartilage.
Decreased Libido With all of these hormonal shifts, it’s no surprise that menopause impacts your libido. While some women experience an increased sex drive, a decreased libido is more common. Lubricants can help, but for a more effective treatment of decreased libido – as well as many of the other symptoms on this list – we recommend bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. Bio-identical hormones are hormones that are biologically, structurally, and chemically identical to your body’s natural hormones. Their molecular shape is identical to the hormones made by the human body, so they “fit” perfectly into the receptor cells as opposed to their synthetic counterparts, which come close but aren’t precise. Vaginal Dryness Vaginal dryness occurs when vaginal tissues become thinner or more easily irritated due to the decrease in your body’s estrogen levels. This can make sex painful – which also leads to a decrease libido. Both lubricants and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy can help with vaginal dryness. Depression Depression isn’t unique to menopause, and either are the ways to treat it. Shifts in your body’s function or inadequate sleep are two main causes of depression brought about by menopause, but it can also be caused by many of menopause’s often symptoms. A good diet and exercise are two great ways to manage your depression. You may also want to try seeking a menopause support group, picking up a new hobby, or finding ways to manage stress. Breast Soreness or Burning Breast discomfort hits different women in different ways. The pain may feel sharp, throbbing, stabbing, or burning in one or both of your breasts – because menopause sucks. You should first talk to your doctor about how to treat it just in case. Often, you over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help. We also recommend trying some natural remedies, like vitamin E, B vitamins, and Omega 3s. You should give acupuncture a try. Frequent Need to Pee No one should have to experience a loss of bladder control or involuntary urinary leakage. Unfortunately, urinary incontinence (UI) happens much more frequently than you’d think – and impacts millions of women as they get older. Sometimes UI is minor. You may leak a few drops of urine when you’re exercising, coughing, or laughing. Other times, it can be sudden, urgent, and potentially embarrassing if you’re physically unable to make it to the restroom in time. UI occurs when pressure or stress is put on the muscles that help you hold or pass urine, which is common during menopause. The loss of estrogen can cause your pelvic muscle to weaken, making you more susceptible to UI. As your estrogen levels continue to deplete, your UI symptoms may become worse. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy can help mitigate UI. Other treatments include:
- Drinking less caffeine
- Consuming less alcohol
- Losing weight to reduce pressure on your muscles and bladder
- Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles
Women should be able to enjoy active, healthy sex lives before, during, and after they go through menopause. By treating some of the symptoms above, you’re well on your way to enjoy the next chapter of your sexual well-being. Contact Boston Direct Health today to learn more about our sexual health services for women.