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Menopause


Menopause

Menopause is the transition period in a womans life when her ovaries stop producing eggs, her body produces less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
Menopause is a natural event that normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.

The symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels. The ovaries make less of these hormones over time. The specific symptoms and how significant (mild, moderate, or severe) they are varies from woman to woman.

A gradual decrease of estrogen generally allows your body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes. Hot flashes and sweats are at their worst for the first 1 - 2 years after the last period. Menopause symptoms may last 5 or more years.

Estrogen levels may drop suddenly after some medical treatments, as is seen when the ovaries are removed surgically (called surgical menopause). Chemotherapy and anti-estrogen treatment for breast cancer are other examples. Symptoms can be more severe and start more suddenly in these circumstances.

As a result of the fall in hormone levels, changes occur in the entire female reproductive system. The vaginal walls become less elastic and thinner. The vagina becomes shorter. Lubricating secretions from the vagina become watery. The outside genital tissue thins. This is called atrophy of the labia.

Symptoms:
In some women, menstrual flow comes to a sudden halt. More commonly, it slowly stops over time. During this time, the menstrual periods generally become either more closely or more widely spaced. This irregularity may last for 1 - 3 years before menstruation finally ends completely. Before this the cycle length may shorten to as little as every 3 weeks.

Common symptoms of menopause include:

    Heart pounding or racing
    Hot flashes
    Night sweats
    Skin flushing
    Sleeping problems (insomnia)

Other symptoms of menopause may include:
    Decreased interest in sex, possibly decreased response to sexual stimulation
    Forgetfulness (in some women)
    Headaches
    Irregular menstrual periods
    Mood swings including irritability, depression, and anxiety
    Urine leakage
    Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
    Vaginal infections
    Joint aches and pains
    Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

Signs and tests
Blood, urine, and salivary tests can be used to measure changes in hormone levels that may signal when a woman is close to menopause or has already gone through menopause. Examples of these tests include:
    Estradiol
    Estrone
    Progesterone
    Testosterone
    FSH
    LH
    Other per your doctors orders

A pelvic exam may indicate changes in the vaginal lining caused by declining estrogen levels. The doctor may perform a bone density test to screen for low bone density levels that occur with osteoporosis. The rate of bone loss increases during the first few years after the last period.

Treatment
Treatment with hormones may be helpful if you have severe symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness. Discuss the decision to take hormones thoroughly with your doctor, weighing your risks against any possible benefits. Learn about the many options currently available to you that do not involve taking hormones. Every woman is different. Your doctor should be aware of your entire medical history before prescribing bio-identical hormone therapy (BHRT).

HORMONE THERAPY

Several major studies have questioned the health benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy, including the risk of developing breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.

Current guidelines support the use of BHRT for the treatment of hot flashes. Specific recommendations:
    BHRT may be started in women who have recently entered menopause.
    Controversy exists regarding initiating BHRT in women who started menopause many years ago.
    Women taking BHRT should have a baseline low risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, or breast cancer.

To reduce the risks of estrogen therapy and still gain the benefits of the treatment, Dr. Weathers recommends only BHRT (bio-identical hormone therapy) and never using PREMARIN or PROVERA (toxic synthetics that should never be prescribed).
    Having frequent and regular pelvic exams and Pap smears to detect problems as early as possible.
    Having frequent and regular physical exams, including breast exams and mammograms

ALTERNATIVES TO BHRT
There are some medications available to help with mood swings, hot flashes, and other symptoms. These include low doses of antidepressants such as paroxetine (Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin), and fluoxetine (Prozac), or clonidine, which is normally used to control high blood pressure. Gabapentin is also effective for reducing hot flashes.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

The good news is that you can take many steps to reduce your symptoms without taking hormones:
    Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
    Dress lightly and in layers
    Eat soy foods
    Get adequate calcium and vitamin D in food or supplements
    Get plenty of exercise
    Perform Kegel exercises daily to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis
    Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on (try taking six breaths per minute)
    Remain sexually active
    See an acupuncture specialist
    Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation
    Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse

Complications
Postmenopausal bleeding may occur. This bleeding is often nothing to worry about. However, your health care provider should always check any postmenopausal bleeding, because it may be an early sign of other problems, including cancer.

Decreased estrogen levels are also associated with the following long-term effects:
    Bone loss and eventual osteoporosis
    Changes in cholesterol levels and greater risk of heart disease
    Memory loss and cognitive impairment
    Eye diseases such as macular degeneration

Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
    You are spotting blood between periods
    You have had 12 consecutive months with no period and suddenly vaginal bleeding or spotting begins again, even if it is a very small
amount.

Prevention
Menopause is a natural and expected part of a womans development and does not need to be prevented. However, there are ways to reduce or eliminate some of the symptoms of menopause.

You can reduce your risk of long-term problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease by taking the following steps:
    Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease.
    Do NOT smoke. Cigarette use can cause early menopause.
    Eat a low-fat diet.
    Get regular exercise. Resistance exercises help strengthen your bones and improve your balance.
    If you show early signs of bone loss or have a strong family history of osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about
medications that can help stop further weakening.
    Take calcium and vitamin D.