Given all the media attention to the various symptoms and treatments for menopause, you’d almost think it were some sort of disease. The fact is, menopause is a very natural part of a woman’s life. It is simply the next step in a long series of hormonal transitions that begins in adolescence with the onset of menstruation.
Menopause, which generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, signals the end of menstruation and the final stage of the hormonal cycle.
Warning signs and symptoms
As their monthly periods cease, many women may experience a variety of rather unpleasant side effects, such as:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings or depression
Additionally, over the long term, low levels of estrogen can lead to osteoporosis, or bone loss.
Symptoms usually start during perimenopause, which begins about two to five years before a woman has her final menstrual period. If menopause occurs as the result of a surgical or medical procedure that disrupts normal hormonal functions, symptoms may begin immediately.
Some women seem to breeze through menopause without really experiencing any side effects, while others have symptoms so severe that medical treatment is required. Most fall somewhere in the middle. If your symptoms don’t bother you, simply let nature run its course and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
However, if your symptoms interfere with your usual activities or are worrisome, help is available. There are a number of options, and no one choice is the best. Every woman is different, and the most effective treatment plans are tailored to your individual needs. With the help of your doctor, you can find the “best” approach for you.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy. Hormone replacement therapy uses synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone (progestin) to raise hormone levels and help alleviate symptoms. In addition, it slows or stops bone loss, maintains vaginal lubrication, and has a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Testosterone therapy can help restore libido and a sense of well-being. There is some controversy over whether long-term hormone replacement therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. If you are concerned about risks, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
- Soy. Soy foods, powders and supplements have been in the news for the past several years as potential treatments for menopausal symptoms. Soy is one of a handful of natural products high in phytoestrogens, naturally occurring plant compounds that resemble a form of estrogen. Other products high in phytoestrogens include black cohosh, flax seed and legumes. While they may help alleviate symptoms associated with estrogen deficiency, research has yet to prove phytoestrogens effective in treating or preventing osteoporosis.
- Complementary Approaches. Integrative and complementary therapies such as acupuncture and nutritional remedies such as healing foods or herbal supplements may help relieve some symptoms.
- Discuss any concerns you may have with your physician. For a referral to a Scripps physician who specializes in women’s health, call 1-800-SCRIPPS (800-727-4777) or see our doctor finder.
- Call 1-800-SCRIPPS (800-727-4777) for information on any upcoming seminars or support groups for menopause.
- See the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine for more information about complementary, whole person approaches to alleviate menopause.