Although menopause is common and natural, it can carry a stigma that keeps people from talking about what they're experiencing. Because of this, some members may be misinformed about early menopause symptoms and how to effectively treat them.
Not only does knowing how to cope with the effects of menopause improve quality of life, but proper treatment can lead to less stress, better sleep, a lowered risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and slowed progression of osteoporosis.
Here's what members should know.
Signs and Symptoms
Contrary to what you may have heard (and how it's often portrayed in movies and on TV), menopause won't make you go crazy or turn you old. Early menopause symptoms may begin as early as age 30, when dropping estrogen levels result in both physical and emotional changes.
Early menopause symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from nonexistent to severe, and can include:
- Longer, heavier periods or shorter, lighter periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats that make it difficult to sleep
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Changing body shape
- Vaginal dryness
- Poor memory or concentration
How to Manage Your Symptoms
Of the many myths surrounding menopause, one of the biggest is that there's nothing you can do to manage the symptoms. In reality, a number of tested treatments and lifestyle changes could help. Some require a doctor's assistance, but many can be done on your own.
For example, you might consider:
- Starting a exercise routine that incorporates yoga
- Quitting smoking
- Staying away from coffee, tea, spicy foods and alcohol, especially around bedtime
- Getting more sleep and stick to a consistent sleep pattern
- Practicing pelvic floor exercises
- Using an over-the-counter pain reliever
- Wearing layers
- Staying cool at night by dressing in light clothes for bed, choosing moisture-wicking sheets, placing an ice pack under your pillow or sleeping near a fan
- Incorporating stress management techniques into your day, such as meditation or deep breathing
If you've already tried managing the symptoms but are not finding relief, your doctor can outline other options like hormone replacement therapies, low-dose antidepressants and alternative medical treatments.
When to Talk With Your Doctor
Menopause doesn't require a special trip to the doctor for diagnosis. That said, if you're struggling to manage your early menopause symptoms or are concerned that what you're experiencing isn't normal, a visit might be in order. Before the appointment, keep a log of your symptoms, how often they occur and their severity, as well as any treatments you've tried and their effectiveness.
You might also want to come armed with some questions for your doctor, such as:
- What treatments are available to help me manage my symptoms?
- Are there any lifestyle changes or alternative therapies you'd recommend in addition to medical intervention?
- Are there any websites or books you can recommend to help me learn more about what I'm experiencing and how to cope?
- Which tests, if any, do I need?
- Are there any concerning symptoms I should be aware of?
- How can I maintain my health in menopause?
Not all medical professionals are well-versed in handling menopause symptoms. If you feel that your doctor hasn't effectively answered your questions or didn't take your concerns seriously, be your own advocate — search for a new provider in your insurance network or ask friends for someone they'd recommend. Finding the right doctor is important to help you deal with the symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Menopause is natural. Between working to understand the symptoms and having honest conversations with your doctor, you'll be prepared to conquer this new phase of life.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.