Menopause is a normal part of aging that marks the close of a woman's reproductive life. It usually occurs around age 51 when a woman goes one full year without a menstrual cycle. It's not uncommon for other health conditions to coincide with menopause, such as:
When most women think of menopause, they're actually thinking of perimenopause. This transitional period begins about six years before and lasts one year after the last period. During this time, a woman's body produces less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation becomes less frequent.
What to expect during menopause and perimenopause
You'll likely experience those infamous hot flashes and go through other changes, including:
- Vaginal atrophy. As estrogen is lost the tissues of the vagina and vulva become thinner and more dry, which can cause inflammation and irritation. Intercourse may also become painful.
- Urinary tract changes. Some women experience bladder infections or incontinence. It may be painful to urinate, or you may need to urinate more frequently or urgently.
- Decreased libido. During menopause, the ovaries stop making testosterone. This hormone plays a part in both male and female sex drives.
- Night sweats. When hot flashes occur during sleep, they may interrupt your sleep routine and cause daytime fatigue.
- Emotional changes. Changing hormones can lead to mood swings.
How to manage menopause and perimenopause
There are many ways to help relieve the effects of menopause and perimenopause, such as:
- Prevent hot flashes by avoiding hot drinks, alcohol and spicy foods
- Dress in layers so you can shed clothing when a hot flash hits
- Ease vaginal dryness with over-the-counter lubricants
- Remain sexually active and use Kegal exercises to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and prevent vaginal atrophy
- Stay healthy and feel better with regular exercise, relaxation techniques, a balanced diet and calcium and vitamin D supplements
If you aren't able to relieve your symptoms, you may want to consider hormone therapy. Estrogen supplements can reduce hot flashes and may also strengthen your bones, helping to prevent osteoporosis.
Talk with your doctor about whether hormone therapy is right for you because of potential risks, including breast cancer, blood clots, heart attack and stroke. You and your doctor may also want to explore other medication options, such as a low dose of antidepressants or a drug typically used to control high blood pressure.