In this article we looked at how to tell whether you are approaching the peri-menopausal time – the time that leads up to your last period – and the symptoms that many women experience.
Here, we’re going to look at those symptoms and talk about natural ways you can tackle them.
Many women don’t feel that their symptoms are troublesome or need treatment, but many more do. And as you’re reading this, you probably fall into the latter group.
Dealing with hot flashes/flushes.
Probably one of the commonest peri-menopausal symptoms, and up to 75% of women say they experience some sort of hot flush or sweats at some point during their peri-menopausal time.
Hot flashes can cause:
- Flushing of the face and neck
- A sudden feeling of heat over the upper body
- Red blotches over the upper body
- Sweating and then a cold shiver after the flash has passed
- They can happen day and/or night.
Manage hot flashes by trying one or more of the following:
- Get to know your triggers – spicy foods, hot drinks, alcohol, caffeine, being in a hot place or hot bath, stress are common ones.
- Wear natural fibers such as cotton or wool. And wear layers of clothing that you can remove and put back as you need. Natural fibers let the skin breathe and will help you to feel more comfortable.
- Use a fan at home or work.
- Move into a cool room/go outside if it’s cooler when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Have a cold drink as soon as you recognize the signs of a hot flash.
- Control your stress response to the hot flash (stress can make them worse; see above) by taking slow, deep breaths when you feel it starting.
- Menopause hormone therapy (MHT – formerly called hormone replacement therapy (HRT)) can also help with all peri-menopause symptoms. There’s more about medical treatments in this article.
- If you still have periods, even if they are quite light, a low dose oral birth control pill may help. Again, talk to your doctor.
- If you’re not able or don’t want to take MHT then other meds, commonly used for conditions like depression, high blood pressure and epilepsy, have been shown to be useful in preventing hot flashes.
- If you smoke, stopping can help with hot flashes.
- Similarly, a recent study has found that losing weight can also reduce the severity of the hot flashes.
- Some small studies have shown that hypnosis can help. Find a reputable hypnosis professional with experience of treating women with menopausal symptoms to help you with this.
- Acupuncture may be good for severe hot flushes, German researchers have found.
- Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can help you control your stress response and therefore reduce the number and severity of your hot flashes.
- Exercise has proven to be a successful control for many unpleasant peri-menopause symptoms. A study published in the medical journal Menopause showed that the symptoms of peri-menopausal women who had done very little exercise improved greatly when they exercised regularly. Results came after about 6 months.
You need to do about 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week, or 1.25 hours of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.
Also do muscle building exercises twice a week – lift light hand weights etc.
That’s not as bad as you might think – the moderate activity can be broken into a 30minute walk 5 days a week, or an hour’s dance class, an hour’s swimming and a half hour walk, for example.
Exercise also helps to protect you against other problems of the post-menopausal time, such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and bone loss (osteoporosis).
It will also help you stay in shape, control mood swings (see below) and improve sleep.
- Herbal remedies such that contain phytoestrogens (say ‘fiy-to-esstro-jens’) are good for some women. Sources of phytoestrogens include black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, wild yam and soy products (such as dairy alternatives).
Research is not conclusive about whether they have a positive benefit for most women, and you should talk to your medical doctor before trying them. These remedies have side effects and can interact with other meds you’re taking.
Dealing with poor sleep during the peri-menopause.
Sleeping problems as you go to the menopause are also very common. Are they caused by unknown causes or because of night sweats and hot flashes?
If you wake because of night sweats then see the advice above. Also:
- Make sure your bedroom is cool.
- You sleep in cotton bedding and cotton pyjamas.
- If you and your bed partner have different temperature needs, consider his’n’hers duvets – more about them here.
General sleep advice includes:
- Be physically active (see above), but not within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid large meals for up to 3 hours before bedtime.
- No caffeine after midday.
- Avoid working for about 3 hours before bed so that your mind is more relaxed.
- Have a quiet and dark bedroom. The bedroom should be for only sleep and sex. Make sure your bedtime reading is relaxing.
- Some practitioners advocate ‘sleep hygiene’ – getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, and not napping during the day. Others say that making sure you have about 8 hours of sleep in 24 is important, so napping to catch up with this is ok. The dangers of sleep debt are an important health risk. You may need to experiment with ‘sleep hygiene’ or ‘adding up the hours’ to see which helps you most.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and do something unstimulating until you feel tired – such as ironing, writing a journal or reading a dull book or paper.
- Keeping a sleep journal may help.
Dealing with mood swings.
Being uncharacteristically moody is a sign of the menopause approaching – but also other things such as stress or other hormone upsets.
- Sleep pays an important part in our mood so see the tips above if you think you’re short on sleep.
- Keep a journal of your stresses and how you are managing them. Ask for help if these stresses are beyond your own abilities.
- Consider therapy or counseling.
- Meditation and yoga are great stress-busters.
- Menopause hormone therapy (MHT, formerly HRT) can help with all symptoms of the peri-menopause.
- Talk to your doctor if you feel you may have depression.
Dealing with memory problems.
Memory problems are worrying, especially as we get older, as there is always a fear of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Sleep is also important for memory as the events of the day are laid down in the memory when we sleep. So see the tips above, and our sister site www.SleepBetterLiveBetter.net for more.
- Try brain games such as crosswords and Sudoku.
- Stay physically active. Apart from all the other benefits of exercise, you’ll be breathing deeper and harder, which gives the brain more oxygen than when you are sitting/doing sedentary tasks.
- Stay in touch with friends and relatives. Being social is good for the memory, scientists have found.
- See this article dedicated to improving memory.
Dealing with urinary problems.
Women who have had urinary problems earlier in their lives are likely to find that these return as they get older.
- Pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises are essential for every woman over the age of 40. As we age the muscles become weaker unless they are exercised, and this can lead to leaking when we cough, sneeze, laugh, exercise etc.
- Work out whether you have urge incontinence (when you feel the need to rush to the bathroom) or stress incontinence (when you leak as you laugh, sneeze etc) or a mixture of both. See this article for more details.
- Talk to your doctor about medical treatments for incontinence. It doesn’t need to be ‘part of getting older’ and can be very draining on a woman’s confidence – just when she needs it most.
Dealing with vaginal dryness.
As the levels of female hormone (oestrogen/estrogen and progesterone) decrease, the vagina loses its elasticity and its moisture. This can be uncomfortable on a daily basis and can also make sex painful.
- Over the counter water-based gels and lubricants like SYLK or KY Jelly can make sex more comfortable.
- Replens is also available over the counter and helps with vaginal moisture and comfort.
- MHT in vaginal rings or pessaries can also help with this. They are available from your doctor on prescription.
Each woman has a different experience of the peri-menopausal time. It make take some trial and experimentation to find a combination of treatments/strategies that help you.
You can track your symptoms using this useful sheet from WomensHealth.gov. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/menopause-symptom-tracker.pdf
Always see your doctor if:
- Your periods have stopped for over a year and you then experience some spotting.
- You have bleeding after sex.
- Your symptoms are distressing and affecting your quality of life.
- You’re concerned that your symptoms are not part of the peri-menopause.
Everyday Health has these articles about the menopause.