The meeting was in full swing when unexpectedly my heart started to beat faster. “Did I drink too much coffee this morning?” I thought. But all of a sudden I could feel the heat rush through my body. I quickly peeled off my jacket. “Hot Flash!” my mind screamed. I reached for a piece of paper to fan my red face and continued discussing the day’s agenda. Luckily the hot flash was short. Menopause can be a difficult time in some women’s lives because of the symptoms they have, while others may have few problems. I want to pass on reliable facts to you on menopause symptoms and estrogen therapy.
What is Menopause?
As you come to the end of your reproductive years, your ovaries will stop releasing an egg each month. Your menstrual cycle will end and your estrogen hormone level will decrease. After you have gone a whole year without a menstrual period, you are considered to be in menopause. This usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 50.
How Do I Know I’m Going Through Menopause?
Your doctor could give you a blood test to check your hormones, but more than likely the first sign of menopause will be irregular periods. Insomnia, mood swings, fatigue and anxiety can also be signs that you are heading toward menopause. Perimenopause is the term for the time period that a woman goes through right before menopause. Since all of our bodies are different, don’t expect the exact same symptoms as your best friend. Some other symptoms of perimenopause are “brain fog”, weight gain, thinning of hair, and even heart palpitations and breast tenderness.
Women’s Most Common Symptoms During Menopause
Hot flashes can be very concerning and frustrating. One minute your body feels fine and suddenly a warm feeling rushes over your body. Your face flushes and you perspire. This feeling may last a few seconds to several minutes. When you have a hot flash at night, it is called a night sweat. While tucked into your cozy bed you may end up sweating and wake up soaking wet. Believe me, this is very uncomfortable.
Your body tries to maintain the normal balance of chemicals flowing through your body. With the fluctuation of your hormones during menopause, hot flashes and night sweats
accompanied with your daily stress can steal hours of shut eye. In order to stay healthy, you need enough sleep, 6-8 hours are recommended.
Osteoporosis (Brittle-Bone Disease)
With the decline in estrogen levels, your bones become less dense, making it easier for a bone to fracture. Women may lose an average of 25 percent of their bone mass during menopause. Estrogen therapy can be used to treat brittle bones. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements may be recommended by your doctor.
Estrogen: Can It Help the Symptoms?
Kimberly J. Miller, MD (Clinical Associate Professor and General Obstetrics) from the UW –Madison School of Medicine provided her knowledge about estrogen and menopause. “Hot flashes are the symptoms that can be most reliably cured with estrogen. The dose needed varies with the woman. It is usual to start with a 0.45 or 0.625 mg dose and then increase the dosage if hot flashes continue. Medical conditions play a big role in the decision as to whether a woman would be willing to take estrogen or if a doctor will prescribe it. A woman at risk for forming blood clots or at risk for breast cancer would probably not be a good candidate for hormone replacement therapy.”
Estrogen may be given as an oral pill or with a transdermal patch. “Topical estrogen in low doses is felt to be safer than the oral pills or the transdermal patches. The dose is very low and does not increase the blood levels appreciably if taken as recommended. There is estrogen cream, a ring and estrogen suppositories. These medications help with the dryness symptoms,” said Dr. Miller.
Lifestyle Changes: Can They Help the Symptoms?
Lifestyle changes may alleviate menopause symptoms. “Exercise has been thought to be helpful. Again, it won’t be as helpful as estrogen. But exercise has tons of other health benefits and is certainly worth trying. There is some thought that hot beverages and spicy food can be triggers for hot flashes and so avoiding triggers may be helpful,” advised Dr. Miller. Other suggestions include wearing layers of clothes that you can add or remove as needed. Wearing loose clothing instead of tight fitting, as tight clothes will make you even more uncomfortable during the hot flash.
Whether you breeze through menopause or find yourself struggling with symptoms remember that your health care provider will help you make the right choices for your body and your optimum health.
Because it all begins with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.