Menopause: Easing the transition

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Hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, insomnia, headaches and hair growth. The list of symptoms related to menopause is never-ending.

The average age of a woman reaching menopause is 51 years old, but it may occur as early as your 30s and as late as your 60s.

While there is no way to prevent menopause, at least there is some information that could help ease your anxieties.

During menopause, estrogen levels drop, causing your rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep cycles to shorten.

"According to the National Sleep Foundation, about two out of three women in or around menopause are going to have sleep issues," Harvard Medical School Dr. Mache Seibel.

But you can counteract this. Try listening to soothing music or meditating before bed.

"A nice relaxing bath before you go to bed is a really good idea, because it allows you to kind of relax your muscles as well, and also some people like aromatherapy, perhaps lavender, in the room," Seibel said.

What about hot flashes? Thirty percent of women don't even get them. But if you do, prescription drugs like gabapentin and clonidine can provide relief.

Weight gain? Menopause can increase belly fat, in particular, but it can be countered by increasing activity and subtracting 200 calories from your daily diet. Regular exercise also helps control mood swings.

Your health care provider can help you manage symptoms like night sweats, vaginal dryness or hair loss by using low-dose antidepressants or estrogen therapy.

A study of more than 35,000 women, led by scientists at Leeds University in the U.K., found that women with a diet high in carbohydrates experienced menopause almost two years earlier than average. But those who consumed daily fish and vegetables, such as beans and peas, were able to delay menopause for another three years.

RESEARCH SUMMARY
MENOPAUSE: EASING THE TRANSITION REPORT #2625

BACKGROUND: Menopause is a physiological process in women that normally takes place after the age of 40, but more usually between 44-55 years. It is marked by the non-appearance of a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months or when both of a woman's ovaries are removed or permanently damaged. Once you have reached your final period you are in the post menopause phase of your life. Post-menopause is all the years beyond. Most symptoms improve independently within a 2-5 year timescale after your final period, however, some women report experiencing symptoms for up to 10 years. There are about 37.5 million women reaching or currently at menopause. The average age of menopause is 51 years, however, there is a wide age distribution that ranges from 40 years to 58 years. Women who smoke typically reach menopause 1.5 years earlier than they would if they didn't smoke. Studies have shown that only 57% of women suffer with more than one symptom of menopause and that the remaining 43% experience nothing more than irregular periods. (Source: http://menopausehealthmatters.com/menopause-facts/ and https://localtvwghp.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/menopause-statistics.pdf)

MENOPAUSE TREATMENT OPTIONS: Estrogen therapy is the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes. Depending on your personal and family medical history, your doctor may recommend estrogen in the lowest dose and the shortest time frame needed to provide symptom relief for you. To relieve vaginal dryness, estrogen can be administered directly to the vagina using a vaginal cream, tablet or ring. This treatment releases just a small amount of estrogen, which is absorbed by the vaginal tissues. It can help relieve vaginal dryness, discomfort with intercourse and some urinary symptoms. Certain antidepressants related to the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may decrease menopausal hot flashes. A low-dose antidepressant for management of hot flashes may be useful for women who can't take estrogen for health reasons. Gabapentin is approved to treat seizures, but it has also been shown to help reduce hot flashes. This drug is useful in women who can't use estrogen therapy. Clonidine, a pill or patch typically used to treat high blood pressure, might provide some relief from hot flashes. Depending on individual needs, doctors may recommend medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Several medications are available that help reduce bone loss and risk of fractures. (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353401)

NEW DRUG OFFERS RELIEF: A new class of treatments for women going through menopause is able to reduce numbers of debilitating hot flashes by as much as three quarters in a matter of days. Scientists from Imperial College London have shown that as well as reducing the frequency of flashes, the treatment reduced flash severity and led to improvements in the women's sleep and concentration. Around 70% of post-menopausal women experience menopausal flashing, roughly 10 million women in the UK, and ten percent describe it as "intolerable", according to researchers. "It's a bit like a really hot summer's day, but it can set in at any time, so you're sitting there sweating and having to change your clothes at work and if you're getting flashes all night you don't sleep – it can lead to depression," said study author Professor Waljit Dhillo, professor of endocrinology and metabolism. The drug used in the latest trial belongs to a group known as NKB antagonists (blockers), which were developed as a treatment for schizophrenia but have been "sitting on a shelf unused", according to Professor Dhillo. As well as the reductions in severity and frequency of flashes, the study also reported an 82% decrease in their flashes interrupting their sleep, and a 77% improvement in concentration. (Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/menopause-hot-flush-women-drug-relieve-symptoms-hormone-replacement-therapy-alternative-cancer-a8254276.html)