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5 Things to Know About Menopause

September 15, 2015

Every woman will experience menopause when she gets older. Life has very few certainties, but this is one of them.

More than two million women every year reach menopause. While most people generally know that menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, there are still many misconceptions about this change.

September is Menopause Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about this common condition and to talk to your doctor if you are over age 45. To prepare you for that conversation, here are five things you should know about menopause.

Estrogen Plays an Important Role in Menopause

Menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. When a woman hits her 30s and 40s, estrogen production begins to fluctuate and her period may become irregular or shorter than usual.

Menopause officially begins around a year after your last menstrual cycle. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 to 55, but the average age for menopause is 51 years old.

Hot Flashes Are the # 1 Symptom

Hot flashes are a hallmark of menopause. About 75 percent of women approaching menopause experience hot flashes, according to the North American Menopause Society.

Hot flashes, which can happen several times a day or a few times a month, are characterized by a feeling of intense heat on your upper body and face. It can cause your face to become flush and red and lead to more night sweats and sweating during the day. As hot flashes begin to subside you may experience chills, which can be just as uncomfortable.

These body temperature changes can affect your sleep and cause insomnia. A decrease in estrogen also may lead to vaginal dryness, thinness, pain during sex and frequent urinary tract infections.

Menopause Also Affects Bone Density

Women have a higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis after menopause. In fact, many lose bone density more quickly within the first five years of menopause. Estrogen protects the bones, but age-related decreases in this hormone put women at greater risk for bone fractures and breaks, especially in your hips and lower back.

Hormone Replacement Therapy Can Help

Hormone replacement therapy can help ease menopause symptoms. This therapy is available in the form of pills, sprays and gels or patches you can apply to your skin. The therapy can lower the intensity of hot flashes and night sweats and protect against bone loss. However, it also comes with specific risks, such as blood clots, and an increased risk for certain cancers.

Exercise & Proper Nutrition Have Benefits, Too

Eating right and getting regular exercise could help you better manage menopause symptoms. Because bone loss is such a risk with menopause, you should eat as many calcium and vitamin D-rich foods as possible. Weight-bearing exercises also will increase bone strength.Menopause is inevitable, but there are ways to curb the impact it has on your quality of life. If you are age 45 or older and have begun to experience symptoms, talk to your doctor about available treatment options and work with a dietitian or nutritionist to develop a wellness plan that can help you stay healthy after menopause and well into your golden years.