Women can go through many body changes in their life span. One of those major changes is menopause.
Menopause is the absence of your period for one year. Perimenopause is the time prior, usually a few years, where ovarian function is more erratic and hormone levels can lead to a high estrogen to progesterone ratio.
Symptoms of perimenopause like menstrual cycle changes, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes and fatigue, are well known. Some of those symptoms can disturb daily life and lead to worry about what is “normal.” Dr. Barbara Coulter-Smith, obstetrics and gynecology physician at Marshfield Clinic Health System, reminds her patients that you don’t just have to “deal with it.”
Symptoms and treatment options
Each woman is going to experience perimenopause and menopause differently. Some women may have little to no symptoms, while others experience them all at same time.
“Pay attention to your body and mind,” Coulter-Smith said. “Make note if you experience any changes and talk to your doctor.”
Some risks like osteoporosis or ovarian and breast cancer increase during the same time as menopausal changes. Having an understanding of symptoms, risks and treatment options can help you feel more prepared and at ease through the changes.
Perimenopause can lead to irregular bleeding. Coulter-Smith said the challenge with abnormal bleeding is to rule out other serious causes, prevent anemia if it is excessive and relieve the nuisance of abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB).
“Treatment is individualized depending on diagnosis and severity of AUB,” she said. “Treatments could involve hormone therapy, an IUD containing progestin or possible surgery.”
Perimenopause and menopause can often cause some form of sexual dysfunction for women. Most common is the vaginal dryness caused by low estrogen. Your women’s health provider may suggest over-the-counter lubricants, local estrogen or systemic estrogens.
Coulter-Smith said androgen hormones also diminish with menopause, affecting libido.
“Age-related changes can affect blood flow and nerve sensation to the vagina and clitoris, which may also affect sexual function in women,” she said.
Talk to your women’s health provider if you experience intimacy changes. In addition, the Health System offers the Women’s Intimacy Clinic in Wausau and Weston. Women’s Intimacy Clinic offers a multidisciplinary approach with a gynecologist, physical therapists, psychologists and sex therapist to ensure diagnosis and individualized care based on your unique needs.
Hot flashes, night sweats and sleep disturbance are common symptoms of menopause. Coulter-Smith said sometimes, these could be treated conservatively by dressing in layers, using a fan or drinking cool beverages. However, they also may be helped with non-hormonal medications and hormone replacement (HRT).
“HRT needs to be individualized depending on one’s personal degree of discomfort, personal and family risk factors,” Coulter-Smith said. “HRT also has the added benefit of preventing osteoporosis.”
Treatment is available
The important thing to know is that treatment is available for any concerns or symptoms you experience while you go through life changes.
Talk to your women’s health provider to discuss any concerns and find the treatment that’s right for you.