Are you experiencing hot flashes? Mood swings? Irregular periods? These are all signs of perimenopause, the approach of menopause. You may also be experiencing night sweats, chills—the counterintuitive counterpart to hot flashes– vaginal dryness and dry skin and worse (to many) dreaded weight gain. Ugh! Believe me, I know how you are feeling, because I am experiencing these things myself. It’s not fun, but it is the course of life. Fortunately, we are not alone and there are things we can do to help us cope with these bothersome symptoms, so we can live a little more comfortably.
What we should do first
The first step should be to schedule an exam with your doctor. Most likely, you will be sent for a mammogram, and given recommendations for certain health screenings, such as thyroid testing, triglyceride screening and even a colonoscopy. Depending on your symptoms and results of your screenings and tests, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy, vaginal estrogen cream to combat dryness, or other medications to prevent complications associated with menopause. Your doctor will also recommend a schedule of routine office visits—don’t skip these!
What’s going on with our bodies
Menopause is not kind to women’s bodies. There are multiple complications that can arise after the hot flashes and sweats are gone.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. Women’s risk of cardiovascular disease is increased in post-menopausal women due to the decline in estrogen levels. And, if you have a family history of heart disease, pay special attention to what you feel after menopause. Adjusting your diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure will be critical to maintaining good heart health.
Unfortunately for the heart, maintaining a healthy weight will become increasingly difficult. As metabolisms slow, women burn fewer calories while at rest and during activity. While women may not be able to change their metabolic rate, they can keep an eye on caloric intake compared to the amount of calories burned during the day. Maintaining a lower ratio of calories eaten to the amount burned will help women lose those pesky pounds put on during perimenopause. An even balance of the two will help us maintain our weight once we have at our ideal place.
One condition all women can relate to is incontinence. It’s bothersome and downright embarrassing! Sadly, this is a strong possibility after menopause. Best case scenario, aside from not experiencing incontinence, is a little loss of urine when we cough, laugh, or sneeze. At worst, you may feel a strong urge to urinate and not be able to hold it in. You may become more susceptible to urinary tract infections, too. Luckily, your doctor can help you cope with these issues.
Osteoporosis is another complication women need to be aware of as they age, especially during the first few years following menopause. Brittle, less dense bones means higher susceptibility to broken hips, wrists and other bones, even the spine. Your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements, along with exercise, to help prevent this degenerative disease during perimenopause.
This one is a tough one to handle emotionally, not just for women but for their partners, too. Vaginal dryness makes sex uncomfortable, if not painful. Women may also find they are experiencing less sensation, which can affect desire. Fortunately, there are several over-the-counter moisturizers and lubricants that can help with dryness. Some even contain stimulants! Your doctor may also prescribe vaginal estrogen, which is available as a ring, tablet, or cream, to help with this issue.
All of this sounds ominous and, frankly, more than a little unpleasant. It can be more than aggravating and even depressing. But, never fear, you are not alone and your doctor can help you through. Listen to what your body is telling you. Listen to the advice of your doctor. Stay wise. And, most important, be strong.
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Contributing blog writer: Michelle Williamson, Digital Marketing Specialist at HealthLynked.