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Reducing the severity of menopause

How to recognize and relieve the symptoms

Menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s fertile years, is the target of many jokes. While the transition through “the change of life” can be difficult for some, there are ways to reduce the number and severity of symptoms. 

Menopause occurs when you go 12 months without a period—generally between the ages of 45 and 55. While your body is transitioning to menopause, hormone levels—specifically estrogen and progesterone—change unexpectedly, leading to menopause symptoms.

Most menopause jokes are about hot flashes—almost 75 percent of women have them—but there are others, including sexual dysfunction, joint and muscle pain, sleep problems, night sweats, memory problems, weight gain, moodiness and changing interest in sex. 

How to relieve symptoms 

For hot flashes, avoid spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, and keep cold water handy. Practice good sleeping habits and try to go to bed at about the same time every night. 

All the things that are good for your heart are also good for menopause: exercise, a healthy diet, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

It is important to maintain regular checkups and screenings after menopause: mammograms, pap smears, blood and urine tests are all important to continued good health. You should also regularly measure your height to check for loss of height due to bone loss.

It might be tempting to find relief from symptoms using “spa medicine hormone therapy.” Companies that advertise this type of therapy use non-FDA-approved compounded hormones, do not counsel on the risks of hormone therapy, and do not have menopause-certified practitioners caring for patients. They often use “pellet therapy,” an unapproved practice that delivers high levels of estrogen and testosterone over the course of several months, which can lead to venous clotting, an increased risk of stroke and adverse effects on cholesterol. 

It may feel awkward to talk with someone about menopause symptoms, but your health care professional is trained to help you through “the change.” If your symptoms are severe, your doctor might recommend hormone replacement therapy or other medications. Be honest about your symptoms so they can put together a plan tailored to your needs. KL

Dr. Kathryn Dillon is associate professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the University of Kentucky and a certified North American Menopause Society menopause practitioner.

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