8 ways to combat menopause symptoms
Hot flashes and insomnia aren’t high on anyone’s list of things they want to deal with. But they are 2 of the common symptoms many women experience while going through menopause — and they can last a long time.
“We now know that hot flashes and night sweats last an average of 7 to 9 years,” says Stephanie S. Faubion, MD. She’s the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health and the medical director of the North American Menopause Society. “And for up to a third of women, they can last a decade or more,” she adds.
As women age, their bodies make less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This decline in hormones leads to menopause, or the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), you’re officially in menopause for a year after your last period.
The transition to menopause often begins between ages 45 and 55, according to the NIA. Because hormones such as estrogen play a large role in your body, these changes can also bring on a bunch of rather unwelcome symptoms. Hot flashes, changes in your period, vaginal dryness and needing to urinate more often are just a few.
“The reality is that these symptoms may last a long time and are quite bothersome and disruptive for many women,” says Dr. Faubion. The good news: There are safe and effective therapies that are underused, she says.
Here are some ways to cope with these symptoms — and get back to what matters most.
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Coping strategy #1: Hormone therapy
Your doctor might recommend hormone therapy if menopause symptoms are affecting your quality of life. “Hormone therapy remains the most effective therapy for menopause symptoms and hot flashes specifically,” Dr. Faubion says.
It boosts your levels of estrogen and progesterone to help relieve symptoms, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Depending on what kind your doctor prescribes, it may be available as a pill, patch or cream. They come as estrogen-only (for example, Alora®, Estrace®), progestin-only (Provera®) or a combination of the 2 (Angeliq®, Activella®).
As with all medications, there are risks from hormone therapy. They include blood clots, stroke, gallstones and breast cancer with long-term use. “But for most healthy women under 60 and those within 10 years of their last menstrual period, the benefits typically outweigh the risks,” adds Dr. Faubion.
Coping strategy #2: Low-dose antidepressants
Certain antidepressants may help with hot flashes, anxiety and depression, says Cynthia Flynn, MD. She’s a gynecologist with the ask-an-expert site JustAnswer.com. They’re called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They increase the hormone serotonin in the brain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hot flashes are thought to happen when dipping estrogen levels cause your body’s thermostat (the hypothalamus in your brain) to become more sensitive to changing temps. The hot (or cold) flashes are your body’s way of coping.
How SSRIs help cool hot flashes isn’t really known. But it’s thought that serotonin may curb some of this sensitivity. In fact, the SSRI paroxetine (Paxil®, Brisdelle®) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat menopausal hot flashes.
Coping strategy #3: Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers
You don’t have to live with vaginal dryness. Lubricants and moisturizers can help. Some, such as Astroglide®, can be bought over the counter. Their effects are temporary, but they can help with discomfort during sex.
Others, such as Premarin®, are available by prescription. They contain estrogen, which may actually help rebuild vaginal tissue. In general, they come as insertable creams, tablets or rings.
Coping strategy #4: Osteoporosis medication
Your bones are constantly being remodeled. (In fact, your skeleton completely regenerates itself about every 10 years, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.)
Estrogen helps keep this process in balance. And when the body stops making as much estrogen during menopause, it can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis.
That’s why some doctors prescribe medication such as raloxifene (Evista®) to lower the risk of bone loss and breaks. Your doctor also might want you to take a vitamin D supplement to protect your bones, says Dr. Flynn.
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Coping strategy #5: Avoiding hot flash triggers
Hot flashes may be due, in part, to an extra-sensitive thermostat in your brain. But you can make changes to help yourself stay temperature-controlled.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, this includes avoiding excess caffeine, spicy foods and alcohol. Tight clothing, stress and hot weather can also make hot flashes more likely.
Coping strategy #6: Staying cool at night
Night sweats are really just hot flashes at night. And they can mess with catching quality z’s. To help keep you cooler at night, the North American Menopause Society recommends that you:
- Wear light clothing to sleep
- Use layered bedding that you can easily take off at night
- Run a fan
- Keep an ice pack under your pillow at your head or under your feet
Coping strategy #7: Relaxation techniques
If you feel moodier or more irritable during menopause, it’s not just in your head. Stress, family changes such as growing children or aging parents, or not feeling like yourself could be the cause.
So how do you cope? Deep breathing and meditation may help ease anxiety — and some menopause symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s also worthwhile to try relaxation exercises such as yoga or tai chi.
Recommended reading: Stressed out? Natural cures to fight fatigue.
Coping strategy #8: Kegel exercises
If you’ve had a baby, you may have done Kegel exercises while you were pregnant. These exercises help strengthen the muscles that support the uterus, bladder and rectum.
Aging, combined with menopause, can make it harder to control urination. (An example: feeling a little urine leak out when you sneeze.) These exercises can help keep those muscles in shape.
To find the muscles, stop urination in midstream. Then find a comfortable position and practice squeezing them for 3 seconds and then relaxing for 3 seconds. That’s 1 set. Aim to do at least 3 sets of 10 repetitions a day.
Not every woman will experience severe menopause symptoms. But if you do, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for help. There are ways to ease your discomfort and help make this a time of life you can truly embrace.
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What is menopause: National Institute on Aging
Background on hot flashes: Mayo Clinic
Bone health basics: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Hot flash triggers: Cleveland Clinic
How to avoid night sweats: North American Menopause Society
Deep breathing and menopause symptoms: Mayo Clinic