These are the thoughts of a cantankerous ol' gynecologist who remembers when things were a little different. I try to find a little humor in my life and the people I meet along the way. Come meet the characters in my world.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hot flashes? Irritability? Night Sweats?

You’re Not Crazy, It’s Just Menopause!

Menopause is a natural time in a woman’s life when she stops having periods.  Most women stop between 45 and 55, with the average being about age 51.  It is normal to have some symptoms for a few years before and after this time.  Some women have no symptoms, while others have symptoms that are quite bothersome. 

Guys, you should pay attention, too.  This may help you understand your mother, your sister, your wife or your daughter.  You might apply this to the cranky teacher who is always opening the window, or the lady next door who sits on the porch in the winter.  We are everywhere!

Menopause is considered early if you quit having periods before age 40.  You should see your doctor if you are having problems with irregular periods before this time. 

Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, fatigue, irritability and changes in your period.  The irritability and fatigue may be from not sleeping well because of the hot flashes.  This may lead to depression.  Vaginal dryness can cause irritation of the bladder with more frequent bladder infections.  It may cause difficulty determining if you have a vaginal infection.  It can also cause difficulty with intercourse.

The period changes may be heavier periods, lighter periods, more frequent or farther apart periods.  It may be time to start keeping a record, like when you were a teenager.  Heavy bleeding can be treated by a variety of methods, and should be discussed with your physician.  Too much bleeding can cause anemia with other health problems. 

If you haven’t already thought about it, now is the time to get educated about hormone replacement.  You should discuss this with your doctor.  Menopause is the time when your estrogen drops.  Without hormones, your risk of heart disease starts to climb.  It eventually catches up to a man.  Not a thing you want to do. 

You also start to lose calcium from your bones when the estrogen drops.  Calcium replacement (with Vitamin D) helps a little, but this process continues after menopause.  The risk of breaking a bone gets worse as a woman gets older.  The hip, spine and wrist are the most common bones.  A large number of people die within 6 months of hip fracture.  Many never are as mobile as they were before.  You cannot reverse this by starting estrogen later. 

Many women are also concerned about the hair thinning, skin thinning and wrinkling that also occur as a woman ages.  These things seem to accelerate at the time of menopause.  They may also be somewhat hormone related. 

Some of these symptoms may be caused by other problems.  Remember that this is general advice.  You should consult your physician for specifics about your problems.  Don’t forget your mammograms and pap smears. 

September is menopause awareness month.  I hope this has given you some basic information.  Please use these thoughts to start a discussion with your doctor before you actually go through menopause.  This should help you stay healthy longer into your golden years. 

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