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Get Empowered to Take on Menopause like a Boss
Are you a woman in her 30s or early 40s who is absolutely terrified of the M-word? Or maybe you’re simply looking for the best information you can find to manage your transition into menopause or life after menopause.
Whatever the case, be assured that menopause is a natural part of ageing. It is a time for new beginnings, and for many women, it can be an opportunity to gain knowledge about your health and body; the best time to spend more time being good to yourself.
With the right resources, we can manage the physical and mental changes taking place during menopause and set you on a path to feeling better than ever!
Below we’ll discuss some facts and tips about menopause and the menopause transition to equip you with the tools you need.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is officially diagnosed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. It marks the end of her reproductive years as her ovaries no longer produce eggs. During this time, a woman is no longer able to get pregnant in a natural way but the body starts making the transition to menopause well in advance.
The menopause transition, or perimenopause, is the period leading up to menopause. It can begin in a woman’s late 30s or early 40s and typically lasts between two and eight years. That said, some women experience it for just a few months. Conversely others, perimenopause can last as long as 15 years. We are all unique and this is our journey.
During perimenopause, hormone levels fluctuate because our ovaries produce less estrogen, the hormone that controls the menstrual cycle. As a result, our periods may become irregular and we may experience symptoms like:
- Hot flashes (a sudden increase in body temperature)
- Night sweats (hot flashes at night)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood changes
- Increased cholesterol, including a rise in bad cholesterol (LDL) or decrease in good cholesterol (HDL).
Some ladies may also experience changing levels of testosterone. Women don’t produce the same levels of testosterone as men but it regulates sexual desire. For this reason, you may experience lower libido and reduced vaginal lubrication. All because you have started perimenopause.
It’s important to note that perimenopause is experienced differently by every woman. Some women never experience any challenging symptoms during perimenopause whilst symptoms may come on quite gradually over a period of years for others. Women who experience perimenopause very gradually over several years may not easily identify the natural transition their body is going through. Making this connection is important to avoid the growing frustration of repeated doctor’s visits with no answer for each of the individual symptoms as they appear.
Am I in Perimenopause? What Should I Do?
It’s always best to start with your healthcare provider: Speaking with your healthcare provider can help you better understand what to expect during perimenopause and what steps you can take to manage symptoms. If you find that your healthcare provider is dismissive you should seek out an experienced gynaecologist and a certified menopause practitioner. BioConnect’s gynaecologist, Dr Corona, is the first certified menopause practitioner in Barbados.
Educate yourself: There are many resources available to help you understand perimenopause and what to expect during this transition. Spend some time online reading articles or see if you can find books on the subject. What also helps is attending seminars or joining support groups to help you feel more prepared for the changes ahead.
Focus on the positive: Perimenopause is preparing you for positive changes when you no longer have to worry about menstrual cycles. It is also a time to zero-in on your own needs and desires and to explore new hobbies and interests.
Prioritise self-care: Prioritising self-care can help you feel more resilient and better able to cope. This may include regular exercise, paying attention to how nutritious your diet really is and making changes that make you feel better. It will be important to develop a good sleep routine and manage stress with breathing exercises, visualisations or simple meditations.
Talk to Your Loved Ones: You should also talk to your immediate family or those you live with about the transition you’re making and what it means for you and them. Let them know what you may be dealing with physically and or mentally and what you want to do to deal with it. Ask them to help by being patient and understanding. It would be great to let them read the materials you may be reading about the menopause transition so they too can be educated. Don’t forget that different generations will have experienced it very differently so do be patient if you don’t hear what you were expecting.
What to Expect During Menopause
Some women feel vibrant and can barely tell that they’re menopausal except that they no longer have a period. For you ladies, still take the time to eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise. Ensure you get regular check ups that include your annual breast exams, pap smears and blood tests. You want to maintain your incredible energy and monitor your health.
For others, the possible symptoms during perimenopause continue or escalate. Let’s explore some of these symptoms further:
- Hot Flashes: Hot flashes are a sudden feeling of warmth or heat that spreads over the body, often followed by sweating and chills. Hot flashes can be mild or severe and can last for a few minutes to an hour.
- Night Sweats: Night sweats are hot flashes that occur at night, often causing sweating and disrupting sleep.
- Vaginal Dryness: Decreased estrogen levels can cause the vaginal tissues to become thin, dry and less elastic This leads to discomfort, itching, and pain during intercourse.
- Mood Changes: Hormonal changes during menopause can cause mood swings, irritability and depression.
- Sleep Problems: Hormonal changes and night sweats can cause sleep disturbances including difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Fatigue: Menopause can cause fatigue and low energy levels.
- Urinary Problems: Decreased estrogen levels can cause changes in the urinary tract, leading to urinary incontinence and frequent infections.
- Unwanted Weight Gain: Estrogen regulates where fat is deposited in the body and during the prime reproductive years this is usually in the hips and thighs. As estrogen levels fall, fat becomes deposited more around the midsection. But it is essential to realise that women approaching midlife also have very demanding lives that may leave exercise on the back-burner. So reduced activity plus the chemical changes in the body can both contribute to weight gain.
Black Women and The Menopause Transition
Black women need to be aware that they may experience unique symptoms related to perimenopause and menopause, such as the increased risk for osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. In addition, The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) determined that Black women experience menopausal symptoms for, on average, ten years (whereas that number is 6.5 for white women and 8.9 for Hispanic).
The study also revealed that Black women start menopause, on average, 8.5 months earlier than white women, have worse hot flashes and night sweats, are more likely to experience depression, and have worse sleep quality.
For black women, it is essential to know about these disparities, look for credible sources of menopause education and work closely with a healthcare provider to manage symptoms and reduce potential health risks.
Vaginal Moisturisers, Lubricants or Mona Lisa Fractional laser treatment: Vaginal moisturisers and lubricants can help alleviate vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse. For a more long-term solution, women can explore laser treatments like the Mona Lisa Fractional CO2 Laser which reinvigorates the muscles of the vaginal wall.
Treating Menopause or Perimenopause Symptoms
There are several ways to manage and treat menopause symptoms including:
- Hormone Therapy: Hormone therapy involves taking estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone to replace the hormones that are no longer produced by the ovaries. Hormone therapy can alleviate hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and other menopause symptoms. However, it is not recommended for women with a history of breast cancer or other estrogen-sensitive cancers.
- Non-hormonal Treatments: Non-hormonal treatments, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and gabapentin, can alleviate hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. These treatments are generally safe for women who cannot or do not want to take hormone therapy.
- Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and practising stress-reducing techniques, can help alleviate menopause symptoms. Avoiding triggers such as spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol may also help reduce hot flashes.
- Vaginal Moisturisers, Lubricants or Mona Lisa Fractional laser treatment: Vaginal moisturisers and lubricants can help alleviate vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse. For a more long-term solution, women can explore laser treatments like the Mona Lisa Fractional CO2 Laser which reinvigorates the muscles of the vaginal wall.
- Urinary Incontinence Treatments: Urinary incontinence treatments such as pelvic floor exercises and bladder training or sessions using the Emsella chair can help alleviate urinary incontinence.
- Muscle building: Regular exercise and especially strength training can help to address the muscle loss that occurs as hormone levels altering the balance of muscle to fat change. Very advanced treatments like the use of the Emsculpt machine can also be considered.
Menopause and Mental Health
Menopause is caused by a decrease in hormones, the main ones being estrogen and progesterone. Research has shown that these fluctuations can cause changes in the brain that lead to mood swings, anxiety, irritability, depression and sleep disturbances. It is important to note that these symptoms may not appear until after menopause has already begun and hormone levels have decreased significantly.
It is also important to remember that you are not alone in feeling these emotions; many women experience similar mental health issues during menopause. Taking care of yourself is essential for managing your mental health during menopause. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat healthy foods (especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids), practice stress management techniques (such as yoga or meditation), connect with friends and family for support – all of these things will help you keep your mental health in check. Additionally, speaking with a healthcare professional about any concerns you have regarding your mental health can also be beneficial.
Menopause is a natural transition for all women that requires education and preparation to manage it effectively. However, it doesn’t have to be something that causes fear or anxiety; instead, it should be seen as an opportunity for growth and empowerment through knowledge of one’s own body and health needs. By proactively seeking information on how best to manage menopausal symptoms with lifestyle modifications or hormone therapy if necessary, women can take control of their bodies throughout this transition period in life. With the right resources at hand, menopause can become a liberating experience rather than something to be dreaded.
Reach out to our professional affiliate Frances Bello, Clinical Psychologist for more assistance.