Hot Flashes? Menopause Symptoms? Learn Why It’s Time to Speak Up
Hot flashes? Mood swings? Trouble sleeping? Don’t suffer in silence. That is the all-important message about menopause from Dawn Russell, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Emory Healthcare.
“It breaks my heart when I see a patient who comes in and says: ‘Well, I didn’t think we could do anything. I thought I just had to live with it. I thought it was just part of being a woman,’” says Dr. Russell.
A woman’s body goes through many changes during her life, but Dr. Russell says you don’t have to live in misery because of it. Instead, be proactive. Talk with your doctor to learn what menopause is and how you can take positive steps to ease your symptoms.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is a milestone in a woman’s life; it means the end of menstruation. You will reach menopause after one full year without a period.
The timing varies, but most women transition to menopause at some point between the ages of 45 and 55. During this transition period, called perimenopause, your hormone levels fluctuate. Your ovaries change and produce less estrogen. During perimenopause, many women start to experience unpleasant symptoms.
Signs You Are Probably Heading Toward Menopause
One key signal is your menstrual cycle. Your periods might be shorter, longer, heavier or lighter. Some months you might skip your period altogether.
You might also experience the following:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Pain during sex
- Urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control)
- Vaginal dryness
“Like adolescence, the transition to menopause can feel like a rollercoaster. It can affect different women in different ways – or some not at all. So, if you are feeling transitional symptoms, and you’re anywhere from your forties to sixties, it’s important to talk to your provider because there are things we can do to help,” says Dr. Russell.
Your gynecologist will also examine you to make sure your symptoms are indicators of menopause and not signs of another medical condition.
Take the First Step Toward Menopause Relief – Talk Openly with Your Provider
While there’s no single treatment to make every symptom disappear, your provider can give you good solutions to ease your symptoms and help you feel normal again. You don’t need to feel embarrassed.
“For example, some women confide that they’re having trouble with sex. But a dry vagina is one of the easiest symptoms to treat,” says Dr. Russell. “There is no reason to give up your sex life just because you’re getting older. We can be an advocate for you. We can help.”
One solution doctors can prescribe is a low-dose topical estrogen cream. “When women use vaginal estrogen cream appropriately, significant amounts of estrogen do not enter the bloodstream,” explains Dr. Russell. “You get all the benefits without potential risks or side effects.”
Have a Conversation About Hormone Replacement Therapy – Is It Right for You?
Another treatment to ease symptoms for some women is low-dose hormone replacement therapy, which is commonly called HRT. This therapy replaces the hormones women naturally lose as they leave their childbearing years. Hormone replacement therapy can reduce many symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats and bone loss.
You might have heard about a large study from 2002 called the Women’s Health Initiative, which discovered certain risks associated with hormone replacement therapy. The study found that in some cases, hormone replacement therapy caused an increased risk for breast cancer, heart disease and stroke.
For this reason, Dr. Russell and her colleagues consider hormone replacement therapy very carefully. They talk with women about their health issues, family medical history, risk factors and current symptoms — weighing the risks and the benefits.
“More people than you might think are reasonable candidates for hormone replacement therapy,” explains Dr. Russell. “We find hormones work best for women when they first start to experience menopausal symptoms. However, if they wait to talk with us until they are more than ten years into the transition toward menopause, hormone replacement may not be the best answer for them.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, research suggests that women who are transitioning into menopause or are in the early stages of menopause have more potential benefits and fewer adverse side effects with hormone therapy than women over age 60. Also, newer hormone formulations have fewer risks and provide benefits that outweigh the risks. Researchers continue to evaluate the benefits and long-term safety of hormone therapy.
“With hormone replacement therapy, we aim to ease your symptoms by giving you the lowest helpful dose of hormones for the shortest time necessary,” says Dr. Russell.
If hormone therapy is not right for you, Dr. Russell can recommend other nonhormonal medications and effective techniques. These therapies can help you deal with hot flashes, trouble sleeping and other symptoms of menopause.
Easing Your Symptoms with a Healthy Lifestyle
While Dr. Russell and her colleagues work with patients to find the most effective medical strategies to manage perimenopause symptoms, she stresses that lifestyle changes can also give you significant relief.
“Exercise, good nutrition and mental health help with menopause symptoms so much. And they can also help you feel better in every other aspect of life,” says Dr. Russell. “I spend a lot of time encouraging women and explaining what a difference even a few small lifestyle changes can make.”
Helpful changes you can make include:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat nutritious foods
- Participate in a relaxing hobby
- Spend time with family members and friends
- Talk about your emotions with a friend who has experienced perimenopause or talk with a licensed therapist
If you’d like to learn more about healthy living, Dr. Russell recommends nutrition.gov as a reference for quick, nutritious meals as well as a guide for exercise ideas.
Make an Appointment
For the latest, most reliable information about easing menopause symptoms, make an appointment to talk with one of our expert gynecologists at Emory Healthcare.
“It really is okay to talk with your provider about these issues. But it’s not okay to sit quietly and suffer,” says Dr. Russell. “We’re here for you.”
To make an appointment, please contact Emory Healthcare Women’s Health Services online or call 404-778-3401.
Or, to learn more about what happens with your body during menopause, symptoms and treatments, download our guide Menopause: Understanding the Change.