Let’s talk about menopause…and why not?  Menopause is too often, if not always, treated as a taboo or a joke.  For any of you reading this blog and who’ve experienced interrupted sleep due to hot flashes or night sweats, it is anything but!

Here are a few things you should know about menopause:

For starters, October is World Menopause Month and October 18 is World Menopause Day.   Yes, menopause is that important and it should be talked about.  After all, thousands of women experience menopause; a completely normal and natural occurrence.

But what is menopause?  It is in fact a retrospective diagnosis 12 months after a women’s last menstrual period. Menopause is a natural, spontaneous, and permanent cessation of menstruation that occurs on average in most North American women around 51 years of age.  However, smokers may reach menopause two years earlier, and induced menopause can occur at any age when both ovaries are damaged due to surgery or chemotherapy.

The timespan (usually several years) leading up to menopause when hormonal changes start to happen is called perimenopause.  The day after menopause and thereafter, a woman is in post-menopause. Hormone tests are usually not very helpful because the levels of hormone fluctuate throughout a menstrual cycle.

Women may start experiencing symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and memory changes during perimenopause due to changes in ovarian hormones. The most commonly reported symptoms are hot flashes, also known as night sweats (when they occur during sleep). According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), hot flashes or night sweats affect 60-80 per cent of women entering menopause. Besides an intense heat that seems to rise from the belly up, hot flashes can be accompanied by sweating, palpitations, apprehension, and anxiety.

Menopausal women report mood swings, lack of energy, impaired memory, depression, and anxiety. According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), “43 per cent of midlife women complain to have loss of energy throughout the menopause transition and two years post-menopause.”

During midlife, besides hormonal changes, some women also experience other challenges such as relationship difficulties, grown children returning home, ill parents, loss of partner, medical conditions, and career and financial changes. Aging alone can be a factor of change and difficult to face in a society that values youth. Women’s self-esteem, self-worth, and body image change and may also contribute to feelings of anxiety, “feeling blue”, and even depression.

It is important to be aware of what to expect during this time of change and to report any physical changes to your healthcare provider, pharmacist or physician, because they may be caused by other conditions such as thyroid disorder, depression, or even the side-effects of certain medication.

The myth that menopause is something women “must put up with” is just that- a myth.

Not all women experience the same symptoms to the same degree. Some women breeze right through menopause, while for others menopause symptoms wreak havoc on their lives. Unfortunately, many women find lifestyle modifications (avoiding hot flash triggers, exercising, dressing in layers, etc.) insufficient.

Pharmacists can provide information on available treatments for your symptoms. Besides prescription medication- hormonal and non-hormonal, there are some complementary and alternative treatments available at the pharmacy which may help reduce symptoms.  Although Natural Health Products (NHPs) may not be as rigorously studied compared to prescription treatment, some women prefer this as an option. I can provide information on their use and potential side-effects and interactions with other medication and medical conditions.

Talk to me about menopause, learn about your symptoms, and get informed on what to expect from midlife. Break the taboo and take this opportunity to implement or continue a healthy lifestyle, during peri, menopause, and beyond.

Ask me, I’m not joking!

This post was written by Teresa Isabel Dias, BSc Pharm, R Ph, NCMP

Originally posted on Ontario Pharmacists Association website on October 9, 2014 — see the original article here.

For more information contact me here.

Do you know what stage of the menopause transition you are in - perimenopause, menopause, or postmenopause?

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