For a happy menopause … Be prepared before it happens
Menopause can be the most challenging phase of a woman’s life. But with proper preparation she can manage and minimize the symptoms of this natural process and keep enjoying all the good things life offers as she ages.
All women undergo menopause, and many suffer from its collection of symptoms. But many manage to navigate through this life stage while maintaining a healthy mind and body. This issue of Better Health offers suggestions on how women can prepare and protect against the burdens of menopause-related conditions. Read on to learn how to avoid needless discomfort and enjoy a high quality of life during menopause.
As explained by gynecologist Dr. Pansak Sugkraroek, when a woman reaches the end of her reproductivity, she gradually enters perimenopause. This phase begins approximately five years before menstruation stops and will carry on until the ovaries cease to function. When the ovaries have not produced any ovum or female hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone for 12 months, this is menopause. The average age of women at this stage is 50 years old.
However, for some women menopause comes earlier than expected. Treatments for some diseases can cause early onset, including those for chocolate cyst, uterine fibroids or polycystic ovary syndrome, which often involve chemotherapy or removal of the uterus and ovaries.
While every woman inevitably experiences menopausal conditions, she must not inevitably suffer from their unpleasant symptoms.
Dr. Pansak describes these conditions as:
Physical conditions: Bones become thinner and fragile. A paunch or “beer belly” develops. The skin, hair and vagina become drier. Sexual intercourse sometimes becomes less pleasurable, and instead, more painful. The uterus and vagina droop. The urge to urinate increases, sometimes becoming uncontrollable. Hot flashes, heavy sweating and trouble sleeping are also common.
Mental conditions: Women undergoing menopause are inclined to get upset and anger more easily. Some become depressed, lose the ability to concentrate and are more forgetful. Their changing appearance can make them choose to curtail social activity.
Care and treatment
“The best way to care for women undergoing menopause is to have them prepare for it, starting in their early 40s. A healthy diet, exercise, enough sleep, positive thinking, and timely physical checkups can prevent or minimize undesirable conditions which are bound to develop after they turn 45,” says Dr. Pansak. If these conditions become so severe that they affect daily life, Dr. Pansak suggests that the patient get a medical checkup. The doctor will document the patient’s medical history, do a physical examination, and authorize laboratory tests. If the results suggest that hormonal changes cause the conditions, the doctor will offer advice on possible treatments.
“Menopause is not a disease. Knowing that leads us to the concept of individual care tailored to fit each patient’s circumstances. There is no ‘best’ solution, but only what’s right for you,” says Dr. Pansak.
Ease the unease with supplementary hormones
For those with troubling conditions such as thinning bones, hot flashes, difficulty sleeping or dry vagina, the doctor may consider prescribing supplementary hormones to ease symptoms.
“The prescribed hormone treatment is female bio-identical hormones. They have the same structure as natural hormones in the human body,” Dr. Pansak explains. “They are not artificially manufactured, but rather are extracted from natural botanical sources. Even so, doctors try to prescribe the minimum effective dose.” However, some women should not take these supplements. For example, this treatment may not be appropriate for those with tumors or certain types of cancer or with a family history of cancer. Of special concern are hormone-related diseases, such as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. Women that smoke, have blocked arteries or suffer from kidney disease should also be extra careful about taking hormone treatments.
At present, there are many kinds of supplementary hormones with a variety of delivery methods, such as oral, skin gels, vaginal inserts, plasters and rings.
Many people assume that supplementary hormones have serious side effects. Their concern is certainly not unfounded; however, it is rather outdated. In the past, Dr. Pansak explains, doctors did not fully understand the characteristics and effects of supplementary hormones made from artificial chemical ingredients. For example, they gave wide-ranging prescriptions that weren’t precise about zeroing in on specific conditions.
“Every woman’s unique reactions to these supplements could entail negative side effects,” Dr. Pansak says. “But over the past 30 years, studies and research on hormone supplements now make it possible to prescribe specific hormones to fit the patient’s ailment and achieve the best result with minimal side effects.”
Help from nature
Women that cannot take chemical hormone supplements are still candidates for natural estrogen called phytoestrogens, which have a structure and properties similar to the body’s estrogen. You can find phytoestrogens in various plants including soybeans, licorice, black cohosh and red clover. These herbs are safe to consume, but their effectiveness depends on the individual patient’s physiology. Patients that take chemical hormone supplements can also add phytoestrogens to the regimen without side effects.
Fulfilled with micronutrients
Women with menopause can revitalize their health with vitamin and mineral supplements to replenish missing nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and folic acid. But first, consult your doctor who will administer a test that estimates your nutrient profile, revealing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. “Always ask your doctor before taking supplements to ensure that you receive the proper nutrients at the correct dosage,” admonishes Dr. Pansak.
Current medical technology for treating and managing menopause has advanced significantly, from merely easing symptoms to the higher aim of increasing longevity. Doctors use various methods to adjust the hormone mix in achieving optimum health management.
“The body’s natural hormones perform a multitude of tasks that keep it functioning properly. We can keep them in balance with lifestyle changes, using supplementary hormones or natural nutrients and vitamin and mineral supplements. This comprehensive approach based on knowing the patient’s specific needs helps foster a smoother aging process while maintaining youthfulness for a longer time,” says Dr. Pansak. Knowledge about menopausal conditions and advance preparation for them are the keys to help women get through this phase of their lives in comfort.
Preparing 10 years in advance for menopause’s inevitable arrival can positively affect women’s quality of life in later years. Those approaching menopause should seriously consider applying this foresight to their lifestyle choices. Dr. Preeyanart Komchornrit, a physician specializing in gynecology, suggests multiple strategies to help women prepare for and manage their health before and during menopause.
Consume foods high in calcium, such as milk and dairy products, but with low- or non-fat properties. Eat whole small fish, vegetables such as broccoli, and Indian mulberry leaf. Grains and fruits are also good sources of calcium. Drink one to two liters of water a day. If you need calcium supplements, take 1,000 milligrams a day.
Exercise about 120 minutes a week for 30 minutes a day, four days a week, to encourage production of growth hormone. The exercise should be at a moderate exertion level, such as walking, dancing or swimming.
Proper rest and sleep are a foundation of good health. You should go to bed at a regular time every night and try to be sound asleep before midnight. If you have trouble sleeping, do more exercise, but not right before retiring. If the insomnia does not get better, try taking a melatonin hormone supplement.
Women should undergo a physical checkup at age 40, especially those with a minimal or an inconsistent menstruation. If the results reveal no problems, the doctor can choose to not recommend a hormone test, but for women over 45, the test is strongly recommended.
Record your menstruation cycle every month, including the exact dates, its length and level of flow so that you can notice abnormal changes more easily.
Ease your mind Try to keep your mind at peace. Too much stress is detrimental to you and your family and friends.