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After decades of experience, your husband is probably accustomed to how your menstrual cycle affects you physically and emotionally. But when that childbearing capacity turns into menopause, both of you are on unfamiliar ground.
Simply put, menopause becomes official when you’ve gone 12 months without a period, according to Healthline. It typically occurs when women are in their 40s and 50s, with the average age being 51.
Of course, the specific symptoms of menopause can vary greatly among individual women, according to Dr. Nathan R. Bertoldo, an OB/GYN at MountainStar's Cache Valley Medical Group in Logan.
Keep reading to learn what you and your husband can expect as you transition into menopause.
A range of symptoms
Menopause is not as simple as menstrual cycles stopping. Decreased production of estrogen and progesterone in your ovaries that accompany this natural physiological occurrence can send you for a loop. And menopause doesn’t just suddenly switch on one day. Women generally experience months or years of perimenopause along the way, according to Healthline).
The following are signs and symptoms you may experience during perimenopause: irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, chills, night sweats, sleep problems, mood changes, weight gain and slowed metabolism, thinning hair, dry skin and loss of breast fullness.
Bertoldo says decreased libido and discomfort with intercourse are also possible for women going through this change of life. These symptoms may be particularly challenging to navigate because of their impact on your husband and your relationship. You might struggle with these changes physically and emotionally and it may be hard for your husband to understand what you’re experiencing or to know how to be supportive.
Learn and communicate
On top of all the other symptoms, a woman going through menopause can face depression and have difficulty remembering things, Bertoldo says. “These symptoms can often impact how a person views themselves and how they interact with others.”
Getting educated about what you’re going through and what may still be in the future as you navigate menopause can help so you don’t feel as if your physical and emotional life is out of your control. Communicating your feelings and relaying the facts of what you’re experiencing with your husband will keep the two of you connected and help you feel like you have a loving partner on your team.
Of course, staying in touch with your doctor can help tremendously, Bertoldo says. First, you’ll have a trusted source of information about menopause who knows your personal background and health history, and second, you’ll have the option of treatments that can smooth your way through the transition.
Typical treatments for menopause include prescription hormonal medications and nonhormonal options as well as over-the-counter herbal remedies. But their effectiveness can vary from woman to woman. What works for your neighbor might not help you.
“There a number of herbal therapies that often come up in the discussion of management for hot flashes,” Bertoldo says. “They include black cohosh and other items that are high in phytoestrogens and isoflavones.” Studies and research to this point haven’t shown that these herbal treatments are more effective than placebos, he says, though some women may swear by them.
“There are new treatments for the side effects of menopause,” Bertoldo says. “Some of these are definitely related to the use of hormones to better simulate that which was previously seen by the body before menopause. Notably, there are a few treatments for these vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, depression) that are FDA-approved and nonhormonal.”
As with any therapy you may be considering, discuss the risks and benefits with your health care provider to see if you are a candidate. Some treatments can increase your risk of certain types of breast cancer, so it’s vital to be in good communication with your doctor.
Other options to consider for relieving your symptoms are simple lifestyle changes, Healthline says. They include as weight loss, exercise, reducing room temperature, avoiding foods that make symptoms worse and dressing in light layers. You could also try “self-hypnosis, acupuncture, certain low-dose antidepressants and other medications.” For vaginal dryness, over-the-counter lubricants or estrogen creams are aids that can help improve your intimate relationship with your husband.
Menopause and overall health
Menopause can be linked to other health issues where the symptoms are not always apparent. For example, studies have shown a strong link between hot flashes and increased cardiovascular risk and mortality, according to Science Daily. Recent research shows that the severity of a woman's menopause symptoms might be predictive of an increased risk of cardiovascular problems.
To lessen the possibility of additional health problems, it’s important to keep an eye on heart health, bone density and weight. Lifestyle approaches such as “watching your weight, eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising, and not smoking can reduce your chances of developing heart conditions,” according to Healthline.
Several medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration can help prevent bone loss, including “bisphosphonates, such as risedronate (Actonel, Atelvia) and zoledronic acid (Reclast); selective estrogen receptor modulators like raloxifene (Evista); calcitonin (Fortical, Miacalcin); denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva); parathyroid hormone, such as teriparatide (Forteo), and certain estrogen products.”
Overall, know that as much as you’ve heard about menopause from other women (the peskiness of those famous hot flashes, for instance), your experience will be entirely your own.
Get educated, pay attention to your own body and emotional life, talk with your husband and stay in touch with your health care provider. Menopause is a natural biological process, an inevitable part of life for half of the population. And you don’t have to go through it alone, no matter what your symptoms.
If you need an OB/GYN to discuss menopause or other women’s health issues, find one near you here.
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