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Menopause is one of the major turning points in a woman's life. It is a normal part of the natural aging process, marking the end of a woman's menstrual period and her ability to become pregnant. Natural menopause has occurred when a woman has not had a menstrual period for a full year.

Symptoms of menopause include:

  • Menstrual changes
  • Hot flashes
  • Changes in appearance (thinning hair, dry skin, weight gain)
  • Emotional changes (mood swings, changes in sexual interest)
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Vaginal changes (dryness, itching, pain during sexual intercourse)
  • Urinary tract changes (incontinence, increase in infections)

Hot flashes

Hot flashes are the most common menopausal complaint. They often start with a tingling in one part of the body, such as the back of the hands or behind one ear, and can last up to five minutes. Many women can identify distinct triggers that cause their hot flashes. Examples of hot flash triggers include:

  • Hot shower, using a hair dryer, sitting next to a fire
  • Stress
  • Spicy foods
  • Hot food or beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Some prescription drugs

To reduce the uncomfortable feelings associated with hot flashes, avoid any hot flash triggers, wear lightweight clothing and dress in layers, use a fan, exercise regularly and keep the bedroom cool when you're sleeping.

Healthy habits during menopause and beyond

Women today can expect to live as much as one third of their lives beyond menopause, but it's important to pay special attention to your health in order to enjoy these years. Reduced amounts of the hormone estrogen in menopause can increase the risk of:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Weight gain

A woman may feel healthy since these conditions are often silent and have no symptoms. By taking action now, you can help keep your body healthy and strong for a long time. Here are some suggestions.

Eat right

A healthy diet can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. It can help protect against osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.

To help prevent osteoporosis, eat calcium-rich foods, including low-fat dairy products, tofu, beans (kidney and white), broccoli, kale, spinach and fortified orange juice. If you think your diet does not include enough calcium, talk to your health care provider about taking supplements.

To control and possibly prevent high blood pressure, cut back on salt and sodium. Try seasoning foods with pepper, garlic, ginger, herbs, onions or lemon juice.

Get moving

During and after menopause, regular physical activity helps control weight, prevents and controls high blood pressure and diabetes, and helps reduce the risk of heart attack. Exercise also helps prevent osteoporosis by maintaining bone and muscle. Regular physical activity means 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.

Exercise may also relieve some common menopausal complaints, including insomnia, mood swings and hot flashes.

Stop smoking

Quitting smoking at any age can help reduce the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and osteoporosis.