October is Menopause Awareness Month. Here to answer common questions about menopause is Stephanie Faubion, M.D., MBA. Stephanie is Director of the Mayo Clinic Office of Women’s Health and Medical Director for the North American Menopause Society.
What is menopause?
Menopause defined as no menstrual period for 12 months. It is when the ovary stops producing estrogen and progesterone and marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years.
What are common symptoms of menopause?
Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia. Joint aches are also a common but less well recognized symptom of menopause. Many women have difficulty with weight gain, which is probably more age related than menopause related. Irritability, anxiety and mood swings are also common menopause symptoms.
What treatment options are available for menopause?
The most effective therapy for menopause symptoms is hormone therapy. And for most healthy women who are under the age of 60 in within 10 years of the menopause transition, the benefits outweigh the risks. Women who have a uterus require a progestogen in addition to estrogen therapy. Women without a uterus are able to use estrogen alone.
In terms of lifestyle habits, women should strive to maintain a normal weight and to avoid weight gain. They should also adhere to a regular schedule, aim for 7-8 hours per night of sleep, work on stress management, and eat a healthy diet. These are things that can help set women up for healthy aging.
At this time, there are no over-the-counter remedies (herbs or supplements) for menopause symptoms that have proven to be effective.
What are some things people might not know about menopause?
Menopause is a time in a woman’s life when cardiovascular risk increases. This relates to both the aging process and to the loss of estrogen. Because cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, it is a time when women should take stock of their cardiovascular risk factors including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and tobacco use. Women should address these factors to reduce their risk of future cardiovascular disease and to promote healthy aging. It is important to note that women spend about 1/3 of their life spans postmenopause.
What are some of the long-term effects of menopause?
See the above. In addition to cardiovascular risk increasing, bone loss and the risk for osteoporosis is also a concern. Women typically experience significant bone loss, particularly in the first 5 years after menopause. Paying attention to bone health is important and includes ensuring adequate calcium intake (aiming for 1200 mg elemental calcium daily, optimally from dietary sources) as well as regular weight-bearing exercise. While most women are not low on vitamin-D and do not require a vitamin-D supplement, avoiding vitamin-D deficiency is also important.
Is menopause the same for everybody?
The menopause experience is highly variable. Some women literally stop their periods and never have a hot flash. Others continue to have bothersome menopausal symptoms for a decade or longer. That is why it is difficult to counsel women on what to expect during menopause. However, we need to do a better job of educating women about this important life stage.
Why is increasing awareness about menopause important?
Empowering women (and the health care providers who care for them) with knowledge about menopause is key. This will enable women to feel confident about their ability to manage symptoms that are bothersome and to set themselves up for healthy aging and a better quality of life.