In September, we recognize National Menopause Awareness Month. The timing of this health observance is appropriate, considering the symbolism associated with the changing seasons and changing hormones. Awareness is relevant not only for the 45 million American women transitioning through menopause, but also for their families.
For many women this transition means more than just several missed periods. Menopause may temporarily disrupt your life by affecting your mood, sleep, memory, and consequently, your relationships.
Menopause is a natural and inevitable part of life. Once a woman is past her reproductive years she experiences a decrease in hormones, signaling the end of egg production. Fluctuating hormones often trigger an array of mild to severe symptoms including: hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disorders, mood swings, memory loss, vaginal dryness, dry eyes and skin, reduced sex drive, weight gain, high blood pressure, stress and anxiety, fatigue, joint pain, hair loss, and osteoporosis.
Symptoms of menopause vary greatly among women. Most women begin to experience signs of menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. Though, medical procedures such as hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and pelvic radiation can induce menopause earlier. While some experience symptoms for a few months, others may live with symptoms for over ten years.
There are three categorical stages of menopause. The first, perimenopause (or pre menopause) is characterized by changing hormones, irregular or less frequent periods, and some form of symptoms. The second stage, menopause, is defined as the permanent cessation of menstruation over a 12-month period. The third and final stage of menopause, called post menopause, is when the hormones level-out and women experience relief from most of their symptoms. Still, post menopausal women have an increased risk for certain health problems, like osteoporosis, due to their diminished estrogen levels.
Menopause is hardly the taboo topic it used to be for our mothers; still, women may find it difficult to express their concerns with family and friends. It is important for women and men alike to know the facts and the treatment options available. Maintaining both a healthy diet and regular exercise is essential to minimizing menopausal symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy is a viable medical option for women with severe menopausal symptoms; the hormone replacement pill, like other medications, may incur side effects. Natural remedies such as, yoga, acupuncture, herbs, vitamins, and proper nutrition are also effective means of treatment.
Consult your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you. Importantly, women who engage their friends and loved ones tend to experience an easier transition through menopause. Women searching for answers to their questions and validation of their feelings garner necessary social support in this way. This collective support can be extremely beneficial to your understanding, acceptance, and overall outlook on this phase of your life. Menopause does not have to be the end of something, rather the start of your personal journey to self-actualization.
Amy Christine Peters, D.O., specializes in obstetrics and gynecological medicine. She attended the Chicago School of Osteopathic Medicine and performed her residency with St. Joseph Mercy Oakland. She has office locations in Barrington, Algonquin, and Crystal Lake. Dr. Peters is a member of Advocate Physician Partners. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Peters or to get more specific clinical information, call 1.800.3ADVOCATE (1.800.323.8622).