They say that 40 is the new 20. But for many women, their 40s mark the beginning of the aging process. Maybe you've noticed that weight seems to gather around your midsection and linger, despite your healthy lifestyle. Your bones, muscles and joints begin to ache. You experience a gradual loss of energy and feel fatigued after your regular chores and daily tasks. All of a sudden, you may notice the first signs of hot flashes — sudden temperature spikes that leave you feeling flushed, uncomfortable, and embarrassed. The onslaught of night sweats will keep you up tossing and turning all night.
When you start to notice the signs and symptoms of menopause, you may simply resign yourself to accept them as part of the aging process. The truth is, though, you're not simply getting older — your hormones have fallen out of balance. As you approach menopause, your body loses the ability to regulate vital hormones — such as estrogen, progesterone and even the male hormone testosterone — all necessary for premium function and optimal health in women.
Many women misunderstand the process of menopause. Though the term "menopause" is often used as a blanket statement referring to all the stages of menopausal transition, menopause technically isn't reached until periods have fully stopped for 12 months. Most women enter menopause between the ages of 40 and 55, as their bodies approach the end of fertility and ovulation ceases. However, some women experience early menopause, due to surgeries such as full hysterectomies and total oophorectomies (the removal of the ovaries). In addition, about 1% of women in the United States experience an onset of menopause before the age of 40 due to autoimmune conditions, cancer treatments, thyroid problems, or other medical reasons.
Each woman will experience different symptoms of menopause — often to varying degrees. One of the most troubling and telltale symptoms of menopause are hot flashes — unpredictable rises in body temperature that can be accompanied by sweating, nausea, disorientation and even panic.
Many women also experience psychological and emotional symptoms of menopause, as hormone deficiencies affect mood-regulating chemicals in the brain such as serotonin. The irregular periods that occur as women approach menopause not only stem from the same hormonal imbalances — but can often exacerbate mood as hormones fluctuate further during irregular menstrual cycles.
For women who enter menopause naturally, symptoms tend to appear gradually over time, often peaking during the period known as perimenopause. However, for women who have entered early or medically-induced menopause, symptoms of menopause can strike suddenly, and tend to be more severe. Many women experience menopausal symptoms during the years prior to fully entering menopause. Recent studies have shown the duration of menopause symptoms can last well into post-menopause, in some women up to 10 years.
Most women notice their transition into menopause by the emerging of obvious symptoms — but some women experience symptoms that are so slight, they attribute them to other causes. If you have been experiencing irregular or skipped periods, you may want to consult your doctor about the possibilities of perimenopause or pre-menopause. If you have not menstruated for a year, chances are extremely strong that you have already transitioned into menopause.
Though menopause officially occurs with the year-long cessation of periods, the journey through menopause is truly a process. In order to facilitate understanding of the stages of menopause, experts have broken down the process into three main phases: pre-menopause, perimenopause and post-menopause.
Generally entered in the late 30s or early 40s, pre-menopause marks the earliest signs of the menopausal transition. Symptoms begin to show during this time period, but generally begin to arise gradually, starting out as less frequent and less severe.
During the years surrounding menopause, symptoms of menopausal hormone imbalances tend to worsen and often peak. This phase, known as perimenopause, literally means "around menopause" and refers to the time period leading up to menopause (the full cessation of fertility, marked by 12 consecutive months without periods). Women often remain in this stage as they transition into menopause, since menopause cannot be definitively reached until a year has passed since the last menstruation. Of course, many women experience menopausal symptoms as they wait for this time to pass — leaving them technically in perimenopause until the one-year mark.
From the point when menopause has been officially achieved, women are considered to be post-menopausal. Post-menopause technically refers to the lengthy time of life after menopause — but is most often used to describe the period where symptoms of hormonal imbalances linger.
Whether you're dealing with frequent hot flashes, night sweats, irritability or itching, menopause symptoms can range from distracting to disturbing for many women. The good news is that you have a host of menopause treatment options to choose from — most with distinct benefits, drawbacks and risks. As a woman dealing with menopause, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the menopause remedies available to you, in order to select the best solution for your body and your health.
Hormone replacement therapy — also known as HRT — is one of the few menopause therapies that deals with the underlying hormonal imbalance that causes menopause symptoms. HRT addresses menopause hormonal imbalances by reintroducing hormones into the system —through methods such as oral pills, injections, creams, gels, patches and suppositories. There are many pharmaceutical HRT brand names and variants, each with a specific combination of hormones. For a long time, many women experienced relief from menopause symptoms through the use of HRT.
Unfortunately, rising concerns about the safety of hormone replacement therapy have caused a sharp drop in its popularity. Government reports disclosed data revealing significant health risks caused by HRT — including raised incidences of breast cancer and pelvic cancers, stroke incidence, heart attack risk and serious blood clotting issues in women who use HRT. As a result, many women have been reluctant to assume the health risks of hormone replacement therapy, opting for alternative therapies instead.
Much has been made of Bioidentical or "Natural" hormone replacement therapy (known as BHRT or NHRT) in recent years. By creating structurally similar versions of naturally occurring hormones, Bioidentical HRT claims to provide a safer, more effective version of hormone replacement therapy. BHRT may commonly include the preparation of hormones such as progesterone, testosterone, estrone and estradiol â along with rarer uses of estriol and dehydroepiandrosterone, the latter two which are largely used outside of the U.S. and Canada. Many women also undergo saliva hormone testing as compounding pharmacists attempt to customize hormone levels to their needs.
Unfortunately, little evidence exists that BHRT provides a safer and effective alternative to traditional hormone replacement therapy. Though BHRT often is often ordered by prescription and prepared by compounding pharmacists, the FDA has warned that its claims of safety and efficacy remain unproven.
Because of the safety concerns around traditional hormone replacement therapy and related menopause solutions like BHRT, a growing number of women are turning to natural menopause supplements. Many of these natural menopause remedies fall into three categories — vitamin-based nutritional supplements; herbal , plant-based remedies; and combinations of the two.
Menopause vitamin supplements can provide much-needed nutrition during menopause, but don't tend to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Herbal, plant-derived menopause supplements such as black cohosh, red clover and soy (known as phytoestrogens) can have mild but positive effects on women experiencing symptoms. However, most phytoestrogens only target a single symptom or two — and menopause supplements collectively leave most symptoms untreated.
Women can also elect to treat certain symptoms of menopause — such as vaginal dryness and painful intercourse or flaking, itchy skin — with over-the-counter therapies. Many of these over-the-counter solutions aren't created for menopause directly, but consist of vaginal lubricants, moisturizers and topical ointments. Similarly, women can self-treat a range of menopause symptoms with over-the-counter options, such as natural sleep aids and allergy pills — though relief may be limited.
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