Taking care of yourself through menopause
Menopause is simply defined as the stopping of monthly menstrual cycles. But it is so much beyond that. It is an important phase of transition in physical, sexual as well as mental health for a woman.
Menopause can happen anytime between the ages of 45 to 55 years. Sometimes earlier or later too. World over the average age of menopause is 51years but in India it has been found to be much lower at 46.2 years. The exact cause for this variation is not known but few contributing factors could be lower age at marriage, multiple pregnancies, poor nutrition, move away from traditional lifestyle and foods and increased stress.
The hormonal changes related to menopause can begin few months to even upto 8 years prior to the actual stopping of menstruation. The ovaries gradually start producing lesser estrogen and progesterone and this could result in many unpleasant symptoms. Even though menopause is a part of normal aging, there is no denying that the transition can be distressing.
Symptoms of Menopause:
Here are some simple solutions to deal with the commonest symptoms of menopause.
When the female hormone levels begin to reduce, the hypothalamus (part of your brain that controls body temperature) becomes highly sensitive to even small changes in surrounding temperature. This can cause sudden episodes of feeling extremely warm and stuffy, accompanied by sweating and sometimes, palpitations and anxiety. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce hot flashes.
Find your trigger and avoid it: There are usually triggers like spicy food, dehydration, caffeine, alcohol, cigarette smoke, tight clothing, stress, anger etc. which can start off an episode. Keep track and avoid these.
Wear comfortable clothing: Especially in summers, dress in light, breezy clothing. In winters, wear layers so that you could take them off if a hot flash appears. Stay away from constricting clothing especially around the waist and chest.
Deep breathing : Practicing breathing techniques at the beginning of a hot flash episode can cutdown the duration and distress of it by almost 50%. Take deep slow inhalations, filling your chest and abdomen and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Repeat for 5 to 10 breaths.
The vaginal lining becomes dry and makes you prone to recurrent urinary infections. It can also make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or painful.
Use lubricants – using simple water based over the counter lubricants during intercourse can help both you and your partner be more comfortable.
Probiotics – Having probiotics like curd, buttermilk and even probiotic supplements made specially for vaginal health can help fight recurrent infections. Speak to your doctor about prescribing you some if needed.
Avoid strong soaps, detergents and vaginal wash products. These can make it even drier and worsen the problem.
Estrogen creams : Speak to your doctor about prescribing topical estrogen creams that help relieve vaginal dryness and irritation
The cycles usually become longer, bleeding reduces and eventually stops during menopause. But some women may experience excess bleeding, shorter cycles or other irregularities. Sometimes these could indicate uterine abnormalities including cancer. So in case of following abnormalities, do approach your family physician or gynecologist for further assessment:
Spotting between cycles
Very heavy bleeding during cycles
Cycles which are lesser than 21 days
Bleeding after intercourse
Severe lower abdomen or low back pain during menstruation
Bleeding after 1 year of attaining menopause
Low mood and anxiety.
Remember how you were irritable and had crying spells during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum phase? Perimenopause is another phase where hormonal fluctuations can affect your mood and mental health.
Women who had depression or anxiety earlier in their lives are at higher risk of developing mood changes during menopause. The menopausal years often also coincide with multiple other stresses of life in general like teenage children leaving home, death or sickness of parent/older role models, relationship changes with spouse, birth of grandchildren etc. All this can make this phase very lonely and difficult for women.
Few steps you can take are
Getting 8 hours of restful sleep
Having a healthy routine with nourishing wholesome meals
Having a close group of women friends who can uplift you on bad days
Having a relaxation method like yoga, meditation, music, art, reading, gardening or anything else that is unique to you.
Reduced Estrogen can make the muscles around the urethra weaker and thin out the urinary tract. This can cause involuntary leak of urine while coughing, laughing etc. This can be improved by bladder training exercises, strengthening the pelvic muscles by keigels exercises. Treatments like estrogen creams and drugs that improve the bladder tone. Minor surgical procedures may be needed in more severe cases. Speak to your family doctor or urologist for further guidance.
Anxiety, depression and hot flashes all can contribute to disturbed sleep. Having a regular exercise routine, keeping yourself active, reducing screen time before bed, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and cigarette smoke in the evenings and having a fixed sleep and wakeup timings can help. Your could speak to your doctor for temporary medications that improve sleep.
Skin and Hair problems:
Pigmentation and wrinkling of skin is very common during menopause. Along with plenty of water and nutritious diet, using sunscreen, keeping skin moisturised using a light moisturiser and using mild soaps and supplements with vitamin E, primrose oil, biotin and vitamin A can help improve the skin and hair health. There are many novel treatments for hair fall and a dermatologist can guide regarding them.
Fatigue and Jointpains:
During menopause, women begin to lose calcium from the bones and this can cause osteoporosis or brittle bones. Joint pains and trivial fractures are a result of this. It is a good idea to take calcium supplements for all women In their perimenopausal phase. You could also get yourself tested for vitamin D deficiency and seek treatment for the same with your family physician. Include low fat dairy, soya, mushrooms, avocado, eggs, fish, dry fruits and nuts, green leafy veggies and sesame seeds in your diet.