Menopause is a natural process characterized by the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. During menopause, your hormone levels change and cause a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can be uncomfortable, but the good news is that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Keep reading to learn more about some of the health issues associated with menopause and find out what you can do to manage them.
Health Problems Associated With Menopause
Hot flashes cause you to experience a sudden feeling of warmth throughout your upper body. You may also start sweating, feel anxious or develop a rapid heartbeat each time you have a hot flash.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly why hot flashes occur, but they’re likely due to the effects of lower estrogen levels on your hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for producing hormones that control heart rate, body temperature and mood. If you get a little too warm, your hypothalamus may trigger a hot flash to help you cool down.
Night sweats occur for the same reason as hot flashes. As your estrogen level declines, your hypothalamus becomes more sensitive to slight changes in temperature. If this occurs while you’re sleeping, your body tries to get rid of the excess heat by prompting your blood vessels to widen, resulting in excessive sweating. You may sweat so much that you wake up with soaking wet pajamas or damp sheets.
When estrogen levels start declining, the vaginal tissue becomes thinner and more prone to irritation. Low estrogen levels have also been linked to reduced elasticity and less vaginal lubrication than usual. The lack of lubrication causes vaginal dryness that can make intercourse uncomfortable. Some women also experience vulvar irritation as a result of their vaginal dryness.
The bone tissue you have now isn’t the bone tissue you had at birth. In fact, your body is constantly breaking down old bone and replacing it with new bone, ensuring you have a strong skeleton that can stand up to the wear and tear of walking, standing, running and performing other daily movements.
In people with osteoporosis, the body breaks old bone down faster than it can replace it, resulting in bone loss. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures, making it a serious concern for older men and women.
Up to 20 percent of a woman’s bone loss may occur during or after menopause, due in part to the lower estrogen levels associated with this natural transition. That is because estrogen is directly involved in breaking down and replacing bone tissue. Your risk of osteoporosis is even higher if you don’t get enough calcium from the foods you eat.
Sleep problems are a common side effect of menopause. If you have hot flashes or night sweats, you may wake up several times during the night, leaving you feeling groggy the next morning.
Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone have also been linked to an increased risk of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes multiple pauses in breathing throughout the night. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that postmenopausal women are two to three times more likely than premenopausal women to develop sleep apnea. Many women also experience increased anxiety during menopause, which may interfere with their ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Managing Menopause Symptoms
If you have any of the symptoms described above, there are many ways to increase your comfort and ward off some of the complications associated with menopause-related health problems.
Get Plenty of Exercise
One way to reduce your risk of osteoporosis is to perform weight-bearing aerobic exercises. When you walk, dance, jog, use an elliptical machine or perform other weight-bearing activities, your bones are responsible for supporting your body.
Regular exercise increases your bone density, which may help you avoid bone loss and reduce your risk of fractures. It’s also important to perform exercises designed to increase your flexibility and balance. The stronger and more flexible you are, the more often you’ll be able to perform the weight-bearing exercises that may help prevent osteoporosis.
Smoking is known for its negative impact on heart health, but what you may not know is that smokers also tend to have more severe menopause symptoms than nonsmokers. If you smoke or chew tobacco, do your best to quit. Your primary care doctor can provide information about nicotine replacement patches or other smoking cessation methods.
Focus on Quality Sleep
You may not be able to completely eliminate hot flashes and night sweats, but there are a few things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. If you have a mattress made from memory foam, you may want to replace it with a traditional mattress, as some types of memory foam trap body heat. You should also consider replacing your current bedding with something designed to keep you cool. Many retailers offer lightweight blankets or cooling sheets made from breathable fabrics.
It can also be good to establish a nighttime routine that helps you calm down and prepare for sleep. You may want to incorporate brushing your teeth, washing your face and changing into pajamas in this routine. If possible, avoid watching TV or using your computer immediately before bed, as the bright light has the potential to interfere with the release of melatonin from your brain. Melatonin is a hormone involved in regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
Participate in Stress-Relieving Activities
Poor sleep, hot flashes and other menopause symptoms can make life more stressful. One way to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed is to participate in stress-relieving activities whenever possible. While doing yoga, meditating or getting a massage, you have a chance to relax and let your mind wander. If you don’t have the budget for regular massages or yoga classes, try a meditation app or simply set aside a few minutes per day to sit quietly and release the stress from your mind.
Try a Vaginal Moisturizer
If vaginal dryness is an issue, try an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer. Moisturizing products don’t prevent thinning of the vaginal tissue, but they can reduce the discomfort associated with dryness. Check product packaging carefully to make sure you don’t buy a moisturizer containing ingredients that are known to irritate your skin. Once you choose a moisturizer, use it consistently, about three to seven times per week.
Dress in Layers
Hot flashes can happen at any time, so it’s important to dress in layers. It’s difficult to cool down if you’re wearing a heavy sweater that you can’t remove because you’re not wearing anything under it. Try wearing a T-shirt or a sleeveless shirt under heavier clothing so that you always have the option of removing heavy items when hot flashes get to be too much for you.
Adjust Your Diet
Following a balanced diet is always critical, but doing so during menopause can relieve some of your symptoms or prevent more serious health concerns. To reduce your risk of osteoporosis, eat low-fat dairy products as often as possible. These products contain calcium, one of the most important minerals for bone health. They also contain vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus and other substances that help you maintain strong bones.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the number of hot flashes or episodes of night sweats you have each week. You can find healthy fats in flax seeds, salmon, mackerel and chia seeds. Fruits and vegetables have even been shown to reduce the severity of menopause symptoms.
Take Control of Your Health
If you’ve made these changes and are still having uncomfortable symptoms, contact our women’s-only health clinic for more information about balancing your hormones. We specialize in treating women’s health issues, especially the ones that occur during the menopausal transition.