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Menopause is a time of transition where women stop menstruating and adjust to different levels of hormones in their bodies. For most women, this phase of life begins in their forties. During menopause, women stop getting their periods and often experience other symptoms including hot flashes, mood changes and insomnia. Even though every woman goes through menopause, everyone’s experience is different. It’s common to wonder if your symptoms are normal.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, we specialize in women’s health care and are here to answer all your questions. We have the largest team of women’s health doctors in the Twin Cities, including OB-GYNs, certified nurse midwives and urogynecologists. You’ll find our expert care at more than 20 clinics throughout the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin, including the Park Nicollet Women’s Center. Our team will be by your side through menopause and beyond.
As women age, our reproductive system slows down and we permanently stop menstruating. This cycle is called menopause and it can be a normal part of aging or caused by a medical procedure (induced menopause). During menopause, women may experience many symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, emotional changes and a decreased libido.
There are three stages of menopause; perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause. The symptoms women experience vary at each stage.
Sometimes called “pre-menopause,” perimenopause is the time your body transitions into menopause. Perimenopause starts about four to eight years before menopause. For most women, this phase begins around the age of 40, but some women might experience perimenopause in their 30s.
During perimenopause, the amount of estrogen your ovaries produce will steadily decline. But, you’ll still get your period and could become pregnant. When you’re going through perimenopause, you might start to experience irregular periods, more severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS), mood swings and breast tenderness.
Menopause is when you no longer get your period. You’re officially in menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 consecutive months.
At this stage, your ovaries are producing much less estrogen. Your ovaries also stop releasing eggs, which means you’re no longer able to become pregnant. As estrogen levels decrease, you might experience symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, urinary incontinence and irritability.
The average age women experience menopause is 50, but some women go through menopause as young as 40. The age you start menopause is likely determined by genetics.
Menopause is a natural part of aging, but it can also be caused by a medical procedure. This is called induced menopause and is commonly caused by surgically removing the ovaries, chemotherapy or radiation.
Post-menopause simply means “after menopause.” During this stage, you’ll still experience some symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and mood swings. But these symptoms will be less intense and less frequent. This stage usually lasts for two to seven years, but can sometimes last longer.
Every woman experiences slightly different symptoms of menopause. Some women might experience symptoms more intensely than others, and some might experience very few symptoms. And the symptoms of menopause vary depending on the stage of menopause you’re in. Common symptoms include:
- Irregular periods that eventually stop
- Mood changes
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes or chills
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
- Lower libido
- Sexual discomfort
- Slower metabolism
- Thinning hair
- Urinary incontinence
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight fluctuation
Doctors typically don’t need tests to determine if you’re in menopause. We’ll talk to you about when you last had your period, ask about other symptoms and give you a physical exam. Many women are able to determine they’re going through menopause without talking to their doctor just by paying attention to their symptoms.
If a test is needed to confirm menopause, we may recommend a blood test. During a blood test, we’ll check your levels of estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Abnormal amounts of these hormones can indicate menopause.
We might also check your level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). If your level of TSH is high, it might mean you have hypothyroidism. Symptoms of hypothyroidism are similar to symptoms of menopause.
While menopause is a natural part of aging, low estrogen levels can cause discomfort and lead to some health risks like osteoporosis and heart disease. We can help keep you comfortable and healthy by treating menopause symptoms. Common treatments include:
Since women’s bodies produce fewer hormones during menopause, one of the most effective ways to manage symptoms is to supplement the amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body.
There are two main types of hormone therapy, systemic and vaginal.
Systemic hormone therapy is the most effective type of hormone therapy. This type of hormone therapy uses hormone supplements that enter the bloodstream so they can circulate through the entire body (the whole system). It can help manage many different uncomfortable symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal atrophy. Systemic hormone therapy can also reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Systemic hormone therapy typically includes a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Depending on your needs, your doctor might prescribe hormones in the form of a pill, patch, cream, injection or vaginal ring.
Topical hormones, usually estrogen, are prescribed in a cream form that contains much lower doses of hormones than systemic hormone treatments. These creams are most commonly applied to vaginal tissue, but some can be applied to other areas of the body including your inner thighs and armpits.
Vaginal estrogen is most commonly used to treat vaginal discomfort and urinary incontinence caused by menopause. But, it’s not effective at treating other symptoms like hot flashes and mood changes.
Going through menopause can increase your risk of certain conditions, including osteoporosis, high blood pressure and emotional changes. Women going through menopause are commonly prescribed vitamin D supplements, blood pressure medicines, antidepressants or other medication to help treat or manage these conditions. Some of these medicines can also help manage other menopause symptoms, including hot flashes.
If you’re experiencing any uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, it might be time to visit your doctor. Your OB-GYN, certified nurse midwife or nurse practitioner will help you understand what to expect and prescribe treatments, if needed.
Some women experience symptoms of menopause more intensely. This can include irregular periods, insomnia, painful sex and uncomfortable changes in mood. If any symptoms of menopause interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Yes, it’s possible to manage menopause on your own. Many women are able to manage their symptoms with a combination of these home remedies:
- Exercise – Regular exercise can improve your energy levels, boost metabolism and improve your sleep. It can also help reduce bone loss and lower your risk of cancer. If you’re new to exercising, start off by exercising ten minutes at a time and gradually work up to at least 30 minutes a day.
- Diet – Eating a diet rich in fiber, antioxidants, omega-3, calcium and vitamin D can improve bone health, lower your risk of heart disease and soften your skin. Try increasing the amount of dairy, whole grains, fatty fish, fruits and vegetables you eat in a day. And do your best to cut back on sugar, processed carbs, caffeine, alcohol and foods that are high in salt. These foods can sometimes make your symptoms worse.
- Managing weight – Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of heart disease and may improve your night sweats and hot flashes. If you’re overweight, losing even 5 to 10 percent of your weight can help improve your overall health.
- Supplements – Some women find relief with supplements like progesterone cream, ginseng, black cohosh and many others. If you’re taking supplements to help manage your menopause symptoms, let your doctor know so we can make sure they won’t interfere with other prescriptions.
No, menopause doesn’t cause any health issues. But it can increase your risk of certain health conditions. Because the level of estrogen in your body is much lower during and after menopause, you’re at a higher risk of some conditions, including:
- Emotional changes
- Heart disease
- Periodontal disease
- Urinary incontinence
- Vulvovaginal atrophy
If you have questions or concerns about your risk of developing any of these conditions, talk to your doctor. We’ll help you get the answers you need and let you know if any treatment is needed to manage your health.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.
Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started:
- HealthPartners: 800-883-2177
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota: 800-382-2000
- CIGNA: 800-244-6224 (insurance through work); 866-494-2111 (insurance directly or through the Exchange)
- Medica: 800-952-3455
- Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
- PreferredOne: 763-847-4477 (in the Twin Cities); 800-997-1750 (outside the metro area)
- United Healthcare: 877-842-3210