What Should I Ask My Doctor about Menopause?
If you are a woman over 40 you may have a lot of questions about menopause. When does menopause start? How long will I experience symptoms? Can symptoms be treated? Can I still get pregnant when going through menopause? Will menopause affect my physical appearance? Your doctor will be able to answer these questions and help you best manage menopause symptoms to ensure your health both today and as you experience this natural stage of life.
The Four Stages of Menopause:
- Premenopause refers to a woman’s reproductive years, from her first to her last regular menstrual period.
- Perimenopause is a transitional time of two to 10 years during which time periods eventually stop, plus the first year after the last period.
- Menopause occurs when a woman has gone a full year without having a period.
- Postmenopause is the time in a woman’s life after menopause.
All women will experience menopause. However, each person may have different symptoms. The average age for this “change of life” is 51, but it usually occurs any time between the age of 40 and 55. Common symptoms can last for several years during perimenopause and menopause include changes in periods (such as being heavier or lighter, and shorter or longer in duration or time in between cycles), hot flashes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, and moodiness. Each woman’s menopause experience will be unique. Menopause itself does not require treatment, but if you find some symptoms to be bothersome, you should talk with your doctor about how to relieve your discomfort.
Your doctor may suggest that you take low-dose birth control pills if you have heavy periods. This may help flow become more regular and also prevent pregnancy, which could still happen until you have gone one year without a period. Problems sleeping and night sweats may be relieved by sleeping in a cool, well-ventilated room, and using sheets and wearing clothes that let your skin “breathe.” Hot flashes, which are experienced by approximately 80 percent of women, may last several years after menopause. They can be relieved by:
- Going somewhere that is cool
- Using a portable fan
- Dressing in layers so you can remove a layer if you get warm
- Drinking cold water or juice
- Taking certain prescriptions
You may notice several changes in your body as you go through menopause, such as weight gain around your waist, increase in fatty tissue, loss of muscle mass, reduced breast size, and thinning and loss of elasticity in the skin. Fortunately, you can take steps to feel better about yourself and stay healthy after menopause. Don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise regularly.
Women today will live more than one-third of their lives after menopause. That is why it is important to make lifestyle changes that will allow you to get the most out of life. For more information about menopause, talk with your doctor or visit the National Institute on Aging Web site at www.nia.nih.gov.