Menopause in Cincinnati, OH
Menopause may be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how your body handles the “change of life.” Issues relating to menopause may affect your quality of life. Board-certified gynecologists (OB-GYN) Drs. Chandra Gravely and Cindy Hansel, who head the medical team at the Crescent Women’s Medical Group serving Cincinnati, Blue Ash, and the surrounding communities of Ohio, are here to help you manage the symptoms of this important transition in your life.
What is Menopause?
Menopause refers to the process during which a woman’s menstrual periods cease. Menopause happens once the ovaries reduce their production of estrogen and progesterone. Once a woman goes through menopause, she can no longer become pregnant. Some people refer to the years leading up to a woman’s last period as menopause, but that process actually is the menopausal transition or perimenopause.
During perimenopause, menstrual periods may stop for a while and then resume. Therefore, the only way to determine that you have actually gone through menopause is once your period has been absent for one year. In cases where periods cease for some other medical reason, the process is not considered menopause. The average age for women to experience menopause is 51, but for some women, it may happen as early as 40 or as late as 55.
Once a woman has gone through menopause, she is determined to be in the post-menopausal stage of life. Female hormones won’t fluctuate the way they used to during the menstrual cycle, but instead will remain constant at very low levels.
For some women, menopause is a time of stressful change on both the physical and emotional level, and it may cause uncomfortable symptoms for some women; however, there are many ways to treat symptoms and remain active and strong during this process.
For most women, menopause is a natural occurrence like the initial onset of menstruation. In some cases, however, menopause may be medically induced, caused by an operation or medication. Either way, you should work closely with your medical team to manage symptoms and take good care of your health.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause refers to the period of menopausal transition or the time leading up to menopause, or the cessation of menses. Menstruation may stop and then start again during this period, so technically perimenopause denotes the period of time up until a year has passed since a woman’s last menstrual period. During perimenopause, changes in estrogen and progesterone levels affect women in different ways. These changes may produce symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Some symptoms may last for months or even years after menstruation ceases.
There is no way to tell in advance how long it will take any woman to go through perimenopause, but most women take between two and eight years.
It may be difficult to know for certain if you are going through perimenopause, but a physical exam and your medical history, along with a discussion of any symptoms you may be experiencing, will help our medical team determine if this is the case. Our staff may also test your hormone levels, however, since hormones also fluctuate during the course of a normal menstrual cycle, these tests alone are not enough to determine for certain whether a woman has gone through menopause or is approaching it. Unless there is a medical reason to test, it is not usually recommended.
Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause, or the full cessation of the menstrual period, affects every woman differently. While some women may experience no bothersome symptoms, others experience dramatic changes in different areas of their lives. These changes may be caused by aging, menopause or a combination of both.
Some common symptoms that women experience in the years surrounding menopause include:
- Irregular periods. Menstrual periods may become more or less frequent, longer or shorter, and they may be lighter or heavier. Do not assume that if your period stops for a month or two, it means you are entering perimenopause. You could be pregnant or there may be another medical reason for your missed periods. If you have not had a period for at least a year and suddenly begin spotting or bleeding, this could be a symptom of a serious condition, such as cancer, and you are advised to seek medical care immediately.
- Hot flashes. Also called hot flushes, this is a very common symptom of perimenopause, marked by a sudden feeling of heat rising into the upper part or sometimes your entire body. Your face and neck may become red and you may experience a sudden outbreak of perspiration. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, arms, breasts, and abdomen. Some women experience intense sweating followed by chills.
- Insomnia. Many women find it hard to sleep through the night as their hormone levels shift. You may experience night sweats, which are hot flashes that cause you to perspire heavily while you sleep. Some women report having to change bedding in the middle of the night due to night sweats. This may cause you to feel tired and irritable during the day.
- Vaginal and urinary problems. These conditions may either begin or increase during the time surrounding menopause. The vaginal walls may become drier and thinner due to lower estrogen levels. The reduction of estrogen may also affect the health of your bladder and urethra, and sex may become less desirable or comfortable. You may also experience an increase in vaginal infections or urinary tract infections. Some women experience sudden urges to urinate and find it difficult to hold their urine long enough to get to the bathroom (a condition known as urinary urge incontinence). Some women experience leakage of urine when they sneeze, cough or laugh (a condition called urinary stress incontinence).
- Mood swings. Many women experience emotional changes, mood swings or crying spells. If you experienced mood swings during your regular menstrual cycle, or if you suffered from post-partum depression, you may experience some changes in your emotional state around the time of menopause. Mood swings during this time may be caused by stress, shifts in the family structure, changes in lifestyle or physical exhaustion. Mood swings or emotional fluctuations are not the same as clinical depression.
- Changing attitudes toward sex. Some women feel less interested in sex during the period surrounding menopause while others bloom into a newfound sexuality after menopause. Some women may lose interest in sex because sex may be more physically uncomfortable for women who suffer from vaginal dryness.
- Osteoporosis. This is a serious medical condition that causes the bones to lose density and become weak and brittle. Osteoporosis may lead to a reduction in your height and make you more susceptible to broken bones.
- Other changes. Some women become forgetful or have trouble focusing mentally during this period and in the years following menopause. Some women experience weight gain and general flaccidity caused by losing muscle and gaining fat. Your joints and muscles may also begin to feel achy and stiff. It is not known whether these changes are caused by lower estrogen levels or are simply a result of growing older or a combination of both factors.
Menopause and Your Health
Physical changes in the years surrounding menopause may increase your risk of contracting certain health problems. Reduced estrogen levels and other changes related to aging increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.
There are many important measures you can take to protect your health in the years surrounding menopause:
Eat a balanced diet. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Older adults need just as many nutrients as younger adults but tend to need far fewer calories for energy. Make sure you eat a diet rich in nutrients and low in sugar and fat.
- Women over 50 require 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 and 1.5 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily. Your doctor may recommend a good vitamin supplement.
- Following menopause, a woman’s calcium needs to be increased because of the challenge of maintaining bone density. Women age 51 and older should ingest 800 to 1200 milligrams of calcium daily. Vitamin D is also crucial to bone health. During the menopausal years, women should ingest 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily.
Remain active. Exercise does wonders for your bones, heart, mental health and overall well-being. As a general rule, it is recommended that women observe the following exercise regimen:
- At least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise weekly or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two.
- Strength-training or weight-training exercises that build muscle strength should be done two days per week.
- If your goal is to lose weight, you may need to increase the amount of aerobic activity, as well as observing a balanced diet low in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat.
Quit smoking. Smoking affects your health negatively in many ways, including by damaging your bones. Stay away from secondhand smoke and join a support group to help you quit if you need it.
Protect your gynecological health. Women still need health screenings following menopause. A complete breast and pelvic exam should be performed every year and most women should have a Pap test done every three years. Depending on your personal medical history, it may be wise to get a Pap test more often, so consult our medical experts. Our doctors will also recommend a regimen for a mammogram and/or bone density scans.
Ask our team of experts about immunizations and health screenings. Our team is equipped to discuss blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid and other screening tests. We recommend a screened colonoscopy at age 50. We also offer information about flu vaccines and other inoculations.
For women in and around Cincinnati, Blue Ash or the surrounding communities of Ohio who need medical guidance to manage symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, contact the team of experts at Crescent Women’s Medical Group to schedule an appointment.