managing the ups and downs of menopause

Managing the ups and downs of Menopause

In a special to the Vancouver Sun, Dr. Rhonda Low was interviewed on the topics of perimenopause and menopause. She offers her expertise on reducing symptoms through natural methods and hormone replacement therapy options.

Menopause – what can I expect?

Hot flashes, mood changes, irregular periods and fatigue.  These are just some of the symptoms women can experience with perimenopause and menopause.

And what’s the difference between the two?

Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause – on average this can last anywhere from five to eight years. Menopause is when a woman has not had a period for one full year. The average age in Canada for women to experience menopause is 52.

How to reduce or prevent symptoms

Despite having some difficult symptoms for several years, women don’t have to suffer.

“Eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep and exercise can help to reduce the symptoms,” says Dr. Rhonda Low, Family Physician at Copeman Healthcare Centre.

“Symptoms change over the years. It’s a moving goal post, so having good health habits can help.”

Typically the first sign of menopause is irregular periods. This can mean missing the occasional period to very heavy periods. Each woman will have her own individual symptoms – ranging from mild to severe.

The next most common sign that Dr. Low hears about from her patients is the dreaded hot flashes.

“We’ve all heard about hot flashes. It’s like a sudden power surge. Mostly it’s a feeling of heat from the chest up, where a woman will get a sweaty face and brow. But some women will experience more intense body heat – so much so, that their clothes will get wet.”

And if that isn’t enough, some other signs of menopause include sleep disturbances, recurring bladder infections, heart palpitations, dizziness, decreased sex drive and difficulty concentrating.

As unpleasant as this sounds, Dr. Low is quick to emphasize that this is a natural transition, and it’s important not to medicalize menopause.

“Be proactive. Make healthy choices. Visit your doctor to go over your general health and discuss ways you can improve your health outcomes.”

She says you should definitely not be smoking. This will increase negative symptoms. You should also be at a healthy weight. Being overweight can also increase your symptoms – not to mention it becomes much more difficult to lose weight once you hit menopause.

But what happens when good lifestyle choices aren’t enough to manage your symptoms?

“If your symptoms are disrupting your daily life, you don’t just have to grin and bear it. Seek help.”

Hormone Replacement Therapy options

This is when medication may help you manage the transition.

For some women taking the birth control pill is just what they need to help smooth out the hormonal ups and downs. And for some, it may be a matter of taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to feel like yourself again.

Despite the relief that HRT can provide there are some women who are concerned about the side effects, in particular the persistent misinformation of it causing health problems including cancer.

Dr. Low explains there was a study published in 2002 by the Women’s Health Initiative. It reported that women on synthetic hormones had increased instances of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes. The study, however, had many problems. One of the problems was it looked at women in their sixties whose health status was unknown – not the typical age for perimenopausal woman.

More studies have since been done which show that newly menopausal women on HRT do not increase their chances of heart attack and strokes. And if they’re using it for a short time – under five years – it shows no evidence of causing breast cancer. In fact, HRT can manage the troubling symptoms of menopause, as well as decrease the chances of osteoporosis.

Although HRT is not the answer for every woman it is best to visit your doctor to discuss your options.  It’s not something you have to deal with on your own. Every woman experiences menopause differently, so it’s worth discussing an individualized plan that works for you.

Vancouver Sun & Province, May 24th, 2016