Menopause is a natural, normal process, but for some women it can feel quite mysterious -- because it's something so few people discuss.
"I frequently hear, 'Why doesn't anyone talk about this?' All of a sudden women can't sleep, and they have no idea what's going on," says Dr. Elaine Eustis, with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners OB/GYN. "They see two or three doctors before they get to me. It's surprising to me that more women don't talk about this."
As Dr. Eustis explains, menopause just means your last period, or the cessation of ovariona function. The average age in the U.S. is 51. Here are some important things to know about menopause.
Common symptoms and signs your body is changing
"In the years approaching menopause, known as perimenopause, that's the first time women present to their doctor with new symptoms," Dr. Eustis says. "We typically see irregular periods, skipping periods or very heavy periods occurring more than once a month. The other common symptoms we see before menopause are insomnia, weight gain, night sweats and decrease in sex drive."
Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, and some will be more severe than others. A common symptom associated with menopause is hot flashes, for example, but many women won't experience those at all.
How long do menopause symptoms last?
"Menopause means your ovaries are no longer producing hormones, and that lasts the rest of your life," Dr. Eustis says. "But the symptoms don't last the rest of your life. They can last somewhere between three and 10 years after your last period. I know that sounds like a long time, but it's only a small window in a woman's lifetime."
When should you call your doctor?
"When to seek help is when the symptoms are interfering with the woman's quality of life," Dr. Eustis says. "Like low sex drive putting a strain on her relationship, insomnia or night sweats waking her up, insomnia causing fatigue and interfering with her ability to perform her job and weight gain."
And while you obviously can't prevent menopause from happening, there are ways to be proactive so you experience fewer symptoms: exercising, eating a healthy plant-based diet, and only consuming alcohol in moderation.
Treatment through hormone therapy
Hormone therapy can be an option for women looking to relieve their specific symptoms. "We customize based on two things: safety and what the woman's symptoms are," Dr. Eustis says. "Someone with irregular periods doesn't need the same treatment as someone who can't sleep."
Your doctor can help determine if natural (also known as bio-identical) or synthetic hormones will work best for you. Many women undergo hormone therapy and by age 60 or so, they get off hormones and feel fine, Dr. Eustis says. When considering whether to start hormone therapy, it is important to discuss with a qualified doctor, with special training in treating the symptoms of menopause. "My recommendation is to avoid so-called 'hormone clinics', which may not always have the woman's health and safety as the primary agenda."
Remember: new research is still emerging about menopause. "I get asked all the time, 'What did women used to do?' Well, in 1920, the average life expectancy was 51. It's almost a new field of medicine because we're living so much longer," Dr. Eustis says.
As the Lowcountry leader in adult healthcare, Roper St. Francis can take care of all your healthcare needs. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 402-CARE or visit rsfh.com.