As you age, your body produces less estrogen and progesterone, causing your monthly periods to stop—and other symptoms that differ for every woman. So how you manage this time of life can vary for every woman, too.
Technically, you reach menopause when you haven’t had a period in 12 months in a row. However, perimenopause—the stage before menopause when hormonal changes begin—can last for many years. During perimenopause and menopause, you may experience:
- Menstrual changes. Even if your periods were previously regular, the amount of blood flow and time between periods may now vary
- Night sweats. Light to profuse sweating that occurs during sleep, frequently waking you up and disturbing your rest
- Hot flashes. Sudden, intense feelings of heat in the face, neck and chest, often accompanied by increased perspiration
- Mood swings. Periods of anger, frustration, or sadness may appear suddenly
- Weight gain. Pounds creep up, especially around the waist, as the body loses muscles and gains fat
- Vaginal changes. The vagina can become dry and thin, making intimacy uncomfortable or even painful
- Urinary changes. Leakage or incontinence
- Mental changes. Forgetfulness, trouble focusing
Small lifestyle changes may help you feel better immediately—and throughout the rest of your life. Start with simple adjustments like dressing in layers and keeping room temperatures lower, especially at night. Other changes include getting regular exercise, minimizing alcohol use, practicing healthy eating habits, finding ways to reduce daily stress, such as walking and talking with friends, meditation or yoga.
You may also want to discuss hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your doctor. Simply put, HRT is a way to re-supply your body with key hormones and is available in many forms, including pills, patches, creams and gels. There is, however, no “one-size-fits-all” HRT and there are both benefits and risks to it, depending on your symptoms and health history. For example, HRT should generally be avoided by women with certain types of cancers or a history of heart attacks, blood clots or strokes.
When it comes to managing your menopausal symptoms, the best advice is to talk to your doctor, who can advise you on a wide range of methods—including personal lubricants and acupuncture—and, most importantly, help you monitor your ongoing symptoms to ensure you’re doing what’s right for you.
Sources: FDA.gov, WomensHealth.gov