Embracing A New Phase
Treatment options are available for women who experience disruptive symptoms of menopause
Women in their 50s often have a lively road ahead of them—there is typically more time and opportunities for travel, pursuing new interests or doing a deep dive at work. But if they experience uncomfortable symptoms from menopause, it could pump the brakes on their new journey.
That’s no reason to fear menopause, however. The physical symptoms can be managed and this new season of life can be extremely rewarding.
“Menopause is simply the cessation of ovarian hormone production,” explains gynecologist Barry Schlafstein, MD, of SJ/C Physician Network – Gynecology. “Estrogen and progesterone regulate menses, and when those are no longer produced, there is the cessation of menses. It can happen between the ages of 45 to 55. Most patients are in their early- to mid-50s.”
Menopause is defined clinically as having gone a full year without a menstrual period. It can also be confirmed through a blood test for women who have had hysterectomy or if it is otherwise unclear. Menopause is a natural process, not a disorder. There are, however, potential symptoms that women may need to manage with help from their doctor.
Symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats/trouble sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood changes
In the long term, the lack of hormone production can cause bones to weaken, putting women at a higher risk for osteoporosis. Women may also experience weight gain due to a slower metabolism.
Hormone replacement therapy is an option for women who have moderate to severe hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. With this treatment, medication replaces the hormones that are no longer being produced by the ovaries.
Menopause can be a factor in urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, which can occur as the pelvic floor muscles weaken. This in turn weakens the fascia, or connective tissue, that provides support in the pelvis. To combat this, Dr. Schlafstein recommends pelvic floor exercises and training. If the condition is severe, Dr. Schlafstein will discuss surgical options to repair the fascia.
The menopausal transition can affect each woman differently, but with individualized care, women can manage their symptoms and truly enjoy this time in their life.
“It is a good idea to go to your doctor and map out a plan,” Dr. Schlafstein says. “Discuss what your symptoms are and what your goals are, and how you’d like to proceed. But don’t be afraid. It is part of life. In fact, it can be a wonderful phase of life. Embrace it.”