There are a variety of options available to relieve these symptoms, if you find they interfere with your lifestyle. Discuss your symptoms and your concerns with your health care professional to determine which options make the most sense for you.
The following tips may be recommended to relieve the most common menopausal symptoms:
1. Hot flashes: This experience is caused by your body's attempt to stimulate your ovaries with less and less success. The pituitary gland in your brain increases the amount of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) aimed at the ovaries. Falling estrogen levels and the increase in FSH and LH levels disturb your body's internal temperature. The result: a hot flash.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 85 out of every 100 women approaching or going through menopause have hot flashes, which may start intermittently in your late 30s or early 40s. Hot flashes may get more intense and more frequent around your last menstrual period and then taper off, usually stopping altogether after two to five years. Approximately one in 10 women still have hot flashes 10 years after their last period.
During a hot flash, you may experience a sudden sensation of heat in your face, neck and chest. You may sweat profusely and your pulse may become more rapid. Some women get dizzy or nauseous. A hot flash typically lasts about three to six minutes — which can seem like an eternity. For some women hot flashes are intolerable, occurring at inconvenient moments or at night, disrupting sleep.
There are a variety of strategies for coping with hot flashes, ranging from short-term hormone replacement therapy (estrogen alone or estrogen plus progesterone for no more than three to five years) and other medical options to herbal remedies (see further down in this article), but lifestyle strategies may be the easiest and quickest changes to try first:
- dressing in layers that may be removed if you find you're getting too warm
- sleeping in a cool room
- drinking plenty of water
- avoiding hot foods, like soups, spicy foods, caffeinated foods and beverages, and alcohol, which can trigger hot flashes
- trying to decrease stress
- breathing deeply and slowly, if you feel a hot flash starting; rhythmic breathing may help to "turn down" the heat of a hot flash or prevent it from starting altogether
2. Insomnia: Sleep often is a casualty of menopause, whether it is interrupted by hot flashes (called night sweats when they occur at night) or difficulty falling asleep. Hormonal ups and downs are partly responsible. As you age, your sleep patterns may change. Older people may sleep less, awaken earlier and go to sleep sooner or later than they did at younger ages.
Lifestyle changes for coping with insomnia:
- sleep in a cool room to help relieve hot flashes that may be disturbing your sleep
- exercise regularly
- set and keep a regular routine and hour for going to sleep
- a glass of warm milk but no other food right before bedtime
- no alcoholic beverages or smoking before going to sleep
- don't watch TV in bed
- practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing
- review any medications you are taking to see if they may cause sleeplessness
3. Mood swings: For reasons still not well understood, declining and fluctuating estrogen levels during the transition to menopause, can cause emotional highs and lows and irritability. Lack of sleep due to night sweats may also contribute to feeling irritable and depressed. Though your periods are coming to an end, you may continue to experience the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In fact, emotional symptoms may become worse for a time for some women as they approach menopause. You may also notice that you've lost interest in sex. Declining estrogen and testosterone levels in women at this time may lower your sex drive.
Lifestyle strategies for coping with mood swings:
- try relaxation exercises such as meditation or massage which can be calming and reduce irritability
- discuss your symptoms with your partner and what may be causing them; try new and different approaches to intimacy
- make physical activity part of your schedule; exercise can improve mood and make you feel better about yourself
4. Vaginal dryness and frequent urinary tract infections: Estrogen, a natural hormone produced by the body, helps to keep the vagina lubricated and supple. Following menopause, as estrogen levels decline, the vagina becomes drier and the vaginal wall becomes thinner. Sex may become painful. The wall of the urethra becomes thinner, too, as estrogen levels fall, and increases the chance of more frequent urinary tract infections. Urine leakage may become a problem as muscle support for the bladder and urethra weakens.