Menopause is a fact of life for women, but the transition isn’t something to dread. Changes occur that impact the body and mind, but treatment is available every step of the way. At Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, GA, we are committed to offering world-class menopause care to our female patients.
What is Menopause?
Menopause happens when a woman has gone twelve consecutive months without a menstrual period. The average age for a woman to hit menopause is 51, but it may occur earlier or later than this age. Menopause comes in two stages: perimenopause and postmenopause. Below we look at these two phases of menopause.
Menopause isn’t a sudden change. The years leading up to menopause are called perimenopause. Each woman experiences this differently, and it may last up to seven years or be as short as only a few months.
During the transitional perimenopause phase, the ovaries produce less estrogen and fewer eggs. It is also common for periods to become less regular during this time. Most women begin perimenopause in their mid-40s, but it may happen as early as the mid-30s. Women can still become pregnant during perimenopause, even when periods occur less frequently.
Perimenopause becomes menopause or postmenopause officially only after a woman has not had a period for one entire year. After twelve months have passed since the last period, the body produces very little estrogen, and the uterine lining stops thickening. After this point, a woman can no longer become pregnant.
What are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause symptoms start in the perimenopause stage and continue with menopause or postmenopause. A woman’s body gradually changes during this time, and the symptoms may be more or less noticeable depending on your body’s response to the changes.
In perimenopause, women might begin to notice changes in their bodies and routines in the time before menopause. These changes result from the ovaries creating less estrogen. The symptoms of perimenopause are:
- Heavier or lighter periods
- Hot flashes
- Longer or shorter time between periods
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Urinary changes (incontinence and frequency)
- Vaginal dryness
The first symptom of postmenopause is not having a period for one full year. After this point, women may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
What are the Effects of Low Estrogen Levels?
Before we look at how low estrogen levels impact the body, it’s crucial to understand the role it plays. Estrogen is one of the female sex hormones, and it is vital for sexual and reproductive health and development. Both male and female bodies contain estrogen, but it is particularly important for women.
What Does Estrogen Do?
The ovaries are the primary producers of estrogen. Estrogen triggers female sex characteristics like breasts and broader hips during puberty. This collection of hormones is also responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle throughout the childbearing years and initiating lactation after pregnancy.
Estrogen also plays a role in bone health by working with vital nutrients to rebuild bone structures. Skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain are also impacted by estrogen.
Estrogen Changes in Menopause
During perimenopause and postmenopause, estrogen levels decline in a woman’s body. In the postmenopause period, the body makes very little estrogen. Low estrogen levels can create symptoms and may increase the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Low Estrogen Symptoms
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes, flushes, and night sweats are the most common symptoms caused by low estrogen levels in the body. Sometimes the blood may come to the surface of the skin. As the blood sits near the skin, it can create a flushed-looking face.
Mood swings are another common sign of low estrogen. Feeling anxious, sad, or irritable are all very common mood changes associated with low estrogen levels. Mood swings may intensify when sleep loss occurs because of sweating or hot flashes at night.
Thinning Skin and Tissues
Low estrogen levels can thin tissues in the skin, urinary tract, and vagina. Wrinkles on the skin may appear more prominent. Thinning of the urinary tract may lead to more frequent infection or the urgent need to urinate. Vaginal dryness can lead to discomfort or pain during sex.
Low Estrogen Health Risks
Osteoporosis is when the bones become weak and brittle due to a lack of calcium. Estrogen preserves bone health by preventing calcium loss. When estrogen levels decline because of hormonal changes, it may increase the risk for fractures in the spine, hips, legs, and arms.
Women who drink a lot of alcohol, smoke, and do not exercise are at an increased risk of osteoporosis. Thin and petite women and those with a family history of osteoporosis also have a higher risk of developing this condition.
Estrogen seems to play a role in protecting the body from heart disease because it may elevate good (HDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. A sharp increase in heart disease risk occurs with menopause.
10 Menopause Care Tips
Although no one can stop the natural cycles of life, there are many things you can do to take care of yourself during menopause. Below we offer our top ten Menopause Care Tips to mitigate symptoms and help you transition into this new phase of life.
1. Consider Hormone Therapy (HT)
Hormone therapy is one way that many women take care of themselves during menopause. HT infuses the body with the hormones that are no longer produced in the body. HT may ease symptoms and help prevent osteoporosis. Not every woman needs HT, but many find relief from it.
Benefits of HT can include decreasing hot flashes and sweating, increasing vaginal moisture, fewer mood swings, and preventing bone fractures. If the symptoms of menopause are unmanageable for you, talk to your doctor about HT. Together you’ll decide if this option is right for you.
2. Talk to Your Doctor About Health Risks
Even if you’ve found ways to manage your menopause symptoms, it’s essential to reach out to your doctor to discuss the health risks associated with estrogen loss. If you have a family history of osteoporosis or heart disease, it is especially important to speak with your doctor. Protecting your heart and bone health is one of the best ways to take care of yourself.
3. Invest in a Portable Fan
Hot flashes and night sweats are among the most common symptoms of menopause. Sometimes it might feel like you are always hot. In public or at work, you often won’t have much control over the room temperature, but you still have options. Investing in a portable fan is one way that you can take care of yourself no matter where you are. You might be surprised by what this inexpensive machine can do for you.
4. Use Cotton and Linen
Lightweight fabrics made from natural fibers help keep your temperature down. Materials for our clothes, socks, sheets, and blankets all come in one of three fabric types: synthetic, natural, or a combination of the two. Fabric made from synthetic materials like acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex are all less breathable than natural fibers, which means they retain more heat.
Cotton and linen are among the top choices for keeping your temperature down during menopause. These fabrics release heat instead of keeping it trapped close to the body. If you have night sweats, check your sheets and blanket to see if they are made from a natural material. Switching to cotton bedding could help significantly. The same goes for clothing. Wearing naturally airy fabrics could be a daily comfort game changer.
5. Wear Layers
Layering clothing is one of the best ways you can control your comfort and keep your cool when going through menopause. Choose three or more top layers to help regulate your temperature throughout the day. Many women layer a sleeveless shirt or t-shirt with a loose top and a light jacket or cardigan to combat any chills following a hot flash. The more layers you have ready to peel off or pile on, the better.
6. Lubricate and Moisturize
Pain during sex is one of the challenging aspects of menopause because it can impact close relationships and self-esteem. Know that you have options. Many women find relief from water-based lubricants and vaginal moisturizers sold at the pharmacy. If these options don’t help you, schedule an appointment with us to learn about prescription estrogen vaginal cream.
7. Stay Connected With Friends
Mood swings are common during menopause, and it helps to have friends around. Menopausal changes can feel frustrating and contribute to mood swings, but talking with friends can make the transition more bearable. You might find that friends going through the same changes feel very similar to you. Reaching out and connecting with friends is one of the best menopause care options for overall wellbeing.
8. Stay Hydrated
Drinking cold water will help regulate your body temperature. If you haven’t already started carrying a reusable water bottle around, now might be the time. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is a great way to cool your body and help it stay at a more balanced temperature.
Drinking sufficient water throughout the day can help decrease hormonal bloating and replenish dry skin and tissue. Drink eight to twelve glasses of water per day to stay hydrated. Don’t forget to leave a fresh glass of cool water by your bed every night. Drinking water after waking from night sweats can offer quick symptom relief.
9. Live Well
You may find that during menopause your old lifestyle doesn’t work anymore. Menopause impacts the entire body, and lifestyle choices that once seemed inconsequential may now cause issues. Drinking excessive alcohol, smoking, not exercising, and an unhealthy diet could contribute to a worsening of your symptoms or increased health risks.
It’s never too late to make changes toward a more healthy lifestyle, and you don’t have to do it alone. At Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, we offer a variety of health services to help you get on the right track. Some services that might benefit you include weight management classes, Quitter’s Club, and services through our Southside Behavioral Lifestyle Enrichment Center.
Menopause care means taking care of your mind, body, and spirit throughout the transition time. Adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle can reduce symptoms and change your life for the better.
10. Talk to Your Doctor About Supplements
Talk to your doctor if you are interested in taking nutritional supplements for menopause or for preventing the associated health risks. Some women use calcium or black cohosh, but these supplements aren’t right for everyone. It’s crucial to speak with your doctor to learn more about the best options for your body.
Schedule Your Consultation
Our Women’s Center is devoted to providing you with the best menopause care available. Contact us today at Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, GA, to schedule your initial consultation. Together we’ll discuss your symptoms and find the perfect solution for your needs. We look forward to meeting you.