No two women are exactly alike — and none of us experience menopause in exactly the same way.
Some women go through menopause with relatively mild discomfort while others struggle with severe symptoms – hot flashes, mood swings and sleeping difficulties.
“Some women tell me they can manage the symptoms of menopause on their own,” said L. Andrea Coleman, M.D., an obstetrics and gynecology specialist with DMC Women’s Health Services. Many symptoms of menopause can be managed and minimized through healthy lifestyle changes. “But other women come in and are just suffering through it. They come to me and they are looking for any sort of help I can offer.”
Hormone therapy can be effective in managing the symptoms of menopause, but it has its risks. Studies have shown hormone therapy increases women’s risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. Still, for some women, it may be an appropriate treatment option. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hormones can be used to relieve moderate to severe menopause symptoms, but women should take the lowest dose, for the shortest period of time.
The average age of menopause in the United States is 51. During menopause a woman’s body slowly makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This often happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years old.
“I always take an individualized, tailored approach to treating women with menopause symptoms,” Dr. Coleman said. “You need to weigh the risks of hormone therapy against the benefits. Each patient’s symptoms, needs and risk factors are different. For some women, hormone therapy isn’t the right approach. But for others, it’s an effective way to manage severe symptoms.”
When the risks of hormone therapy outweigh the benefits, there are a number of ways to relieve and manage the symptoms of menopause without taking hormones.
These sudden feelings of heat, usually in the upper body, are most likely in the first year or two before and after a woman’s period stops. Hot flashes usually last from 30 seconds to five minutes. To manage hot flashes:
- Dress in layers. Take off layers as needed.
- Identify and avoid your hot flash triggers (spicy food, alcohol, etc.)
- Practice paced breathing and relaxation exercises.
Some women find relief from hot flashes by taking antidepressant drugs such as Paxil and Prozac, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved these drugs for this use.
Mood swings are a normal part of the menopause years. Natural hormone changes are a primary cause, but moodiness is also caused by your reaction to hot flashes and a lack of sleep (often caused by hot flashes at night.) You can manage these normal mood swings by:
- Minimizing stress in your life. Don’t try to take on too much.
- Tell the people around you that you are experiencing mood swings. Ask for their understanding.
- Take a deep breath and relax before you react in anger.
It’s common for women to have sleep problems during menopause. Hot flashes, night sweats and anxiety are part of the problem. A few things you can do to improve sleep during menopause:
- Exercise in morning or early afternoon. Physical activity late in the day may lead to trouble sleeping.
- Take a hot shower or bath before bed.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and large meals before bed.
- Drink herbal tea or warm milk before bed.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Keep your bedroom dark or wear a sleep mask.
- Close doors and windows to block sound.
While many women complain of memory problems and trouble concentrating during menopause, there is no evidence to suggest that menopause causes memory problems. For most women, the memory and concentration problems associated with menopause are caused by stress and interrupted sleep. It’s important for women to manage their stress levels during menopause.
Here are a few of the best ways:
- Take a yoga class or practice meditation.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Coleman, or another menopause expert at DMC Women’s Health Services, call 1-888-DMC-2500.
Andrea Coleman, MD
Dr. L. Andrea Coleman is an OB/GYN who specializes in menopause and adolescent gynecology. She is board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Coleman is a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. She completed her residency at Hutzel Hospital here in Detroit, Michigan and is a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Currently, Dr. Coleman practices out of the Northwest Women’s Care located in the professional building on the campus of DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital.
Related DMC Services
DMC Sinai Grace Hospital Women’s Health
DMC Hutzel Women’s Hospital Menopause Services