For people who menstruate, menopause is a natural part of growing older. A person is considered to be in menopause when their menstrual cycle has stopped and they have not had their period for 12 months. Most people experience menopause in their 40s or 50s, but some experience it earlier or later than that. Menopause (and perimenopause — the transitional period before menopause) can bring a wide variety of symptoms that you may want to speak to a healthcare provider about.
Perimenopause is the time during which the body is making the transition to menopause. When you are in perimenopause, levels of estrogen in your body may rise and fall, causing your menstrual cycle to lengthen, shorten, or become irregular. (It’s important to note that pregnancy is still possible during perimenopause; if you are concerned about a missed period, you should take a pregnancy test and speak with your healthcare provider.)
In addition to being a normal part of the aging process, perimenopause can also be caused by some surgeries (such as oophorectomy, the surgical removal of one or both ovaries), chemotherapy or radiation, some prescription medications (such as certain antidepressants), and some rare medical conditions. During perimenopause and menopause, you may experience a variety symptoms, including:
• Vaginal dryness
• Irregular periods
• Hot flashes
• Night sweats
• Sleep problems
• Mood changes
• Undesired weight gain
• Slowed metabolism
• Changes in skin or hair
• Changes in breast tissue
These symptoms may be mild or may cause significant disruptions in your life — every person is different.
Perimenopause and menopause symptoms overlap and last a few years for most people. Some symptoms are uncomfortable, but there are some simple things you can do to provide relief.
• Drink plenty of water: When estrogen levels decline in the body, you may experience dryness. Consuming eight to ten cups of water per day can help prevent dehydration (this can also help prevent urinary tract infections). Cold drinks can also help relieve hot flashes.
• You can combat vaginal dryness with lubricants including topical vitamin E oil.
• Talk to your healthcare provider about adding supplements to your diet — they may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements, for instance, to prevent osteoporosis (which can be a longer-term result of lower levels of estrogen in the body). But note that although many supplement makers promise relief of menopause symptoms, there is little research to support many of these claims.
• Be physically active; this not only helps you maintain a healthy weight but also can support healthy bones and help you sleep better (especially if you are experiencing trouble sleeping, as many people do during perimenopause). Yoga and breathing exercises may help you regulate your mood.
• Consume foods rich in phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens: Some research shows that people who consume higher amounts of plant estrogens (naturally occurring compounds found in many vegetables, legumes such as soybeans, and fruits that are already a part of most diets) during menopause, when their body is producing less estrogen, experienced fewer hot flashes and night sweats.
As your body produces less estrogen, your risk of certain cardiovascular diseases increases. You may have higher levels of cholesterol. To combat these risks, consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — foods that naturally lower cholesterol. Choose foods lower in saturated fat, like poultry, fish, and plant protein such as legumes or soybeans. Engaging in weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jumping rope, exercises with weights, and dancing can all help strengthen bones. These preventive measures can also help you stay active and prevent injury as you age. (Read “8 Tips for Healthy Aging” for more advice on staying healthy and happy into your golden years.)
Some people may experience urinary incontinence during perimenopause and menopause. Performing pelvic floor exercises, like Kegel exercises, can help. And some people may experience sexual dysfunction or vaginal dryness. Water-based lubricants can help alleviate symptoms, but if these symptoms are getting in the way of your daily life, speak to your physician about medications and other therapies that provide greater, long-term relief.
The key to maintaining good health at every stage of life is to have regular check-ins and conversations with your healthcare team. Maintaining a good relationship with your primary care provider can help you feel more comfortable when speaking about any changes you may be experiencing.
Menopause is not an illness to be treated; rather, it’s a normal stage of life. However, your healthcare provider can help you navigate the challenges of this time. They may recommend pelvic exams, mammography, triglyceride screening or other bloodwork, bone density scans, or hormone replacement therapy. These conversations, exams, and screenings can help you stay feeling your best and living your life the way you want to.
Looking for a partner to help you reach your health goals? Carbon Health has compassionate healthcare providers ready to talk with you today about all your health needs.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.