|WHAT TO EXPECT
Menopause is a natural part of aging. The lower amounts of
estrogen that come with menopause will cause changes in your body.
These changes occur slowly, over time unless the ovaries are
surgically removed. Menopause, however, is different for everyone.
Some women notice little difference in their bodies or moods. Others
may find it difficult to cope with their symptoms.
- Hot flashes: the most common symptom of menopause is hot
flashes. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat that spreads
over the body. Hot flashes can happen at any time, day or night.
They can be mild or severe. Some women will have hot flashes for
a few months, some for a few years and some not at all.
- Sleep problems: A lack of sleep may be the biggest problems
you face as you approach menopause. Too little sleep can affect
your mood, health, and ability to cope with daily activities.
Some may find it gets longer to get to sleep. Hot flashes,
however, are the main cause of lack of sleep, often waking a
woman from a deep sleep.
- Vaginal and urinary track changes: loss of estrogen in the
vagina may cause the lining to become thin and dry. These
changes can cause pain during intercourse. They can also make
the vagina more prone to infection, which can cause burning and
itching. Tissues in the urinary track also change with age. The
urethra- the tube that carries urine from the bladder- can
become dry, inflamed, or irritated. Some women may need to
urinate more often. Women may have an increased risk of bladder
infection after menopause.
- Emotional changes: Menopause does not cause sudden mood swings
or depression. However, the changes in hormone levels may make
you feel nervous, irritable or very tired. These feelings may be
linked to other symptoms of menopause, such as lack of sleep. If
you are under a lot of stress, the changes may be harder to
manage. Most women in mid- life are going through many changes
anyway. If you find it hard to cope, talk to your partner, a
close friend, a counselor, or your doctor.
- Sexual changes: Menopause does not have to affect your ability
to enjoy sex. Although lack of estrogen may make the vagina dry,
estrogen replacement and vaginal lubricants can help moisten the
vagina and make intercourse more comfortable. Some women find
that they have less interest in sex around and after menopause.
Lower hormone levels may decrease sex drive.
- Birth control: despite signs of menopause, you may still be
able to get pregnant. You are not completely free of the risk of
pregnancy until you have not had a period for one full year.
There are many forms of birth control. Because birth control
pills contain estrogen, they can be an excellent choice for many
women. Natural family planning method is not reliable around
menopause because ovulation is not regular.
- Bone and other body changes: Bone loss is a normal part of
aging. At menopause, the rate of bone loss increases, and unless
estrogen is replaced this can eventually lead to osteoporosis.
If a woman does not take estrogen, there are other options for
preventing osteoporosis. The estrogen produced by women’s
ovaries before menopause protects them from heart attacks and
stroke. When less estrogen is made after menopause, women lose
much of this protection. The risk of heart attack and stroke
Yearly visits to your doctor for breast, pelvic, and rectal exams
are recommended for all women. Your doctor will do a Pap test to
screen for cancer of the cervix and vagina. Depending on your age
your doctor may order a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. You
should also do monthly self-breast exams.
After your gynecologic exam, your doctor may recommend hormone
replacement therapy. More information is available on benefits and
risks of hormone replacement therapy.