Northwest Health Fall 2012

Women's Health

Approaching Menopause

Try these remedies to ease the symptoms of perimenopause.

Go to: Northwest Health Index

Hot flashes, mood swings, breast tenderness. You've probably heard about these symptoms. Many women experience them in the months and years leading up to menopause.

Menopause refers to when a woman is no longer fertile and has ceased menstruating — with no period for 12 months. This usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Perimenopause is the transition period leading up to that. It lasts three to four years on average,  though it can last up to 10 years.

Like all transitions, the experience can take getting used to, says Susan Warwick, MD, a Group Health obstetrician/gynecologist.

Dr. Warwick and Julianne Swift, a certified nurse midwife at Group Health, say there are many ways to ease this transition time. Their tips include scientifically proven remedies, and other suggestions that help some women experiencing perimenopausal symptoms.

Mood changes. Exercise and good nutrition can ease this commonly reported symptom. In more serious cases, antidepressants may be useful. Contact your doctor if you are feeling extremely anxious, depressed, or emotionally fragile.

Hot flashes. During a hot flash, your body temperature increases and then very rapidly lowers. Your body responds by sweating. If hot flashes occur at night, they're commonly called night sweats. Dressing in layers and keeping a fan nearby may help manage this symptom, as can regular exercise. Avoiding caffeinated beverages, alcohol,  or simple carbohydrates (such as candy and cookies) sometimes decreases hot flash frequency. Consuming soy products may help, and some women see improvement with supplements such as black cohosh.

Medical treatments include taking a prescription form of estrogen. Antidepressants can reduce hot flashes significantly. See your doctor if hot flashes or night sweats are seriously disrupting your sleep or affecting your ability to function during the day.

Breast tenderness. Vitamin E or evening primrose oil supplements may help. Or try an over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen.

Headaches. Many women get headaches during perimenopause. Try exercise or relaxation techniques, and over-the-counter pain relief. If the headaches are interfering with your life, see your doctor to confirm the right diagnosis and treatment.

Irregular periods. While this normal symptom of perimenopause may not cause problems, check in with your doctor if you have periods that are closer than 3 weeks apart, last longer than 10 days, or are extremely heavy.

Vaginal dryness. Many women experience this during perimenopause and afterward. Supplemental estrogen and over-the-counter lubricants will help.   

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