Three sets of menopause symptoms exist –solutions exist too
Monday, October 4, 2021
Bring up menopause to a close-knit group of female friends and listen as they unravel the mysterious changes and symptoms that seem to show up differently from person to person.
“So many patients ask, ‘Is this menopause?’” said Callie Crider, D.O., board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with Genesis HealthCare System. “When women come to me for their annual OB/GYN appointment, we often talk about the symptoms and what we can do about them. What worries me is, many women think they must suffer through menopause with no help – and that’s not the case.”
A wide range of menopause and pre-menopause (called perimenopause) symptoms can occur, but a woman only officially enters menopause once she has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. The average woman reaches menopause at 51 years old.
“Interestingly, it’s something we diagnose retroactively,” Dr. Crider said. “If a woman goes 11 months without a cycle and then has one, the clock resets.”
Knowing what to expect, what is or isn’t normal, and what medical help is available can take the mystery out of menopause.
“Even if we can’t fix all the symptoms, we can treat and bring improvement to many of them,” Dr. Crider said. “I see three main categories of menopause symptoms, and most women fall into one or more of the three categories: hot flashes, vaginal symptoms, and lifestyle.”
It’s getting hot in here. With no medical treatment, menopause-related hot flashes can last for four to 10 years. These bursts of broiling body temperature can interfere with a woman’s quality of life. Thankfully, physician-prescribed hormone replacement therapy offers a way to cool off the symptoms.
“About 20 years ago, a study came out with warnings about significant risks linked to hormone replacement therapy, but more recent studies have found that they’re safer than originally thought; and, if administered correctly, in appropriately selected patients, the risks are fairly low,” Dr. Crider said. “So, if hot flashes make you miserable, it may be worth the small amount of risk to get some relief as long as you don’t have any specific contraindications.” It is important to know that not all women can safely use systemic hormones – a discussion with your OB/GYN regarding your personal medical history can help clarify if you can or can’t.
“Down there” care. As ovaries produce less and less estrogen, vaginal dryness, itchiness and pain during sex can occur. But don’t fear because there are readily available treatments to alleviate the irritation.
“This is the easiest of the three categories to treat. I can either prescribe vaginal estrogen, or they can try water- or silicone-based moisturizers or even coconut oil. Anything to bring back moisture down there will help,” Dr. Crider said.
Lifestyle changes. The lack of estrogen during menopause also causes a woman’s metabolism to reduce significantly, leading to an increase in body fat and a decrease in muscle mass.
“This is the hardest one, honestly. The metabolism tanks during menopause, and it never returns to its previous level. Even if a woman’s lifestyle habits stay consistent – they’re eating the same and exercising the same – they may gain weight. No one likes that answer. If a woman is noticing unfavorable changes in her weight, she needs to change the balance of calories she is taking in versus burning off. It’s a sad fact,” Dr. Crider said.
Another lifestyle menopausal effect is decreased sex drive. At this time, no FDA recommended medications or treatments exist to increase menopausal females’ sex drives.
“There are a lot of herbal and natural supplements available in relation to menopause, but none of them are FDA regulated. The products claim to increase sex drive or ease other symptoms, but I don’t encourage those products since they’re often expensive and without proven benefit can be a waste of money. Instead, I recommend talking with your trusted OB/GYN for evidence-based treatments,” Dr. Crider said.