'The Change of Life'
Menopause comes by its ambiguous nickname, “the change of life,” quite honestly. It’s the period of time when menstruation cycles gradually end because the ovaries stop producing the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. This process usually occurs around age 50 and brings many changes along with it.
Barb DePree, MD, a gynecologist and certified menopause care practitioner with Holland Hospital’s Women’s Midlife Services, notes that the medical definition of menopause is the “absence of periods for at least 12 months.” Symptoms commonly associated with menopause begin in perimenopause – the five to 10 transitional years prior to menopause. Perimenopausal symptoms can include a change in menstrual periods, loss of sleep, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, trouble focusing/remembering, and the most notorious of all – hot flashes.
As anyone who’s ever had one knows, hot flashes can be distressful. But there are ways to find relief.
Help for Hot Flashes
Treat yourself to a mini tropical vacation. Mental imagery and relaxation breathing may help rescue you from the heat of a flash. Like Paula above, you can put yourself mentally into a cooling experience that brings you happy thoughts.
Dress in layers. Being able to shed clothing when you get too warm is a life-saver. Wear cotton and other natural fabrics that breathe.
Control your inner thermostat. Even though you can’t stop a hot flash, drinking cold water or another beverage when one starts may cool you down. Other tips: Sleep in a cool room and turn your home’s thermostat down (for us northerners, it saves on heating costs, too!)
Form your own support group. There’s nothing better than laughing your way through menopause with female friends. Because emotional mood swings are a major symptom, there’s comfort in sharing stories and solutions.
Exercise. “Women who exercise regularly have fewer hot flashes,” notes Dr. DePree. Exercise can also help control weight gain, which tends to be centered around the waist during perimenopause. “The best approach to weight management is weight training for the upper body. It builds muscle mass, which is on the decline in midlife, and helps the body burn more calories.”
In addition to lifestyle modifications, there are other treatment options. Hormone therapy can be a very effective and safe option for many women. And there are a few antidepressants that can reduce hot flashes. Herbal products such as soy and black cohosh may be of benefit. It is best to consult with your provider about which of these options may be best suited for you.
Dr. DePree of Women’s Midlife Services works closely with patients to address concerns about hormonal changes, menopause, changes in sexual function and other issues. Learn more at hollandhospital.org/midlife, or call (616) 355-3866 for an appointment.