Monday Medical: Menopause: Help for the heat |

Monday Medical: Menopause: Help for the heat

Lisa A. Bankard/For the Steamboat Today

— Menopause is a natural biological process that women experience typically after age 40. About 70 percent of American women will experience noticeable symptoms during this normal part of aging.

The medical definition of menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, occurring 12 months after a woman's last menstrual period. In the U.S., this happens around age 51, on average.

Signs and symptoms of menopause often appear long before the one-year anniversary of a woman's final period, during perimenopause. These include: irregular periods, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, increased abdominal fat, thinning hair, loss of breast fullness, decreased fertility and vaginal dryness. Perimenopause may last four or five years or longer.

Postmenopause is the stage that a woman enters 12 months after her last period. The ovaries produce much less estrogen and no progesterone. They do not release any eggs.

Several chronic medical conditions can develop after menopause. These include heart disease, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence and weight gain.

Does all this sound pretty bleak? Have no fear ladies, there is relief.

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Menopause itself requires no medical treatment. Treat­ment focuses on relieving symptoms and on preventing or lessening the chronic conditions that may occur with aging. Treatments can include hormone therapy, low-dose antidepressant medications and other medications.

Women can do a great deal on their own to lower their health risks. Healthy behaviors include not smoking or using tobacco, managing blood pressure, exercising daily and eating a diet low in saturated fat that offers plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with menopause are temporary. Here are some lifestyle "remedies" that may provide some relief:

■ Get regular exercise. Strive for a minimum of 30 minutes each day. This helps manage chronic conditions and body weight and relieve stress.

■ Optimize your sleep: Avoid caffeine right before bedtime. Try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.

■ Eat well: Include whole foods in your diets such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and sources of calcium.

■ Avoid alcohol.

■ Strengthen your pelvic floor: Kegel exercises can improve some forms of urinary incontinence.

■ Try yoga: Some women find yoga is effective in decreasing the number of hot flashes during perimenopause.

■ Dress in layers to cool hot flashes.

■ Try to pinpoint what triggers your hot flashes, such as hot beverages, spicy foods, alcohol or hot weather.

The question of whether to pursue hormone replacement therapy is one that should be discussed with your trusted health care provider. HRT provides the estrogen your body no longer produces and can help prevent or reverse the symptoms and diseases related to menopause.

The questions of whether HRT is right for you cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." These factors should be taken into account when discussing this topic with your health care provider:

■ The severity of your immediate physical symptoms caused by the natural decrease in hormones;

■ Your individual risk for osteoporosis and heart disease;

■ Your individual risk for breast and reproductive cancers.

It is important to understand the benefits and the risks associated with HRT in order to make an informed and thoughtful decision.

Even though menopause is not a medical illness, you should not hesitate to get treatment if you are having severe symptoms. Many treatments are available, from lifestyle behaviors to hormone therapy.

Lisa A. Bankard is director of Community Education and Wellness programs at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

For more

Yampa Valley Medical Center and obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Diane Petersen, of the Steamboat Springs Women’s Clinic, are partnering to present “Menopause — It’s Hot!” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. This program, part of the hospital’s Taking Care of Me series, is free to the community and will be held in Conference Room 1.

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