Perimenopause: How To Manage Symptoms And Improve Your Overall Health

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Are you starting to experience hot flashes, trouble sleeping and mood swings? Some women fear they will live with these symptoms for years as they approach menopause. But according to Melodee Babcock, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health System, it’s possible to manage perimenopause symptoms and enjoy this time of life. “While these changes are signs of perimenopause, you can find relief. Lifestyle changes and medications can help you control your symptoms and improve your overall health,” she says.

 

What Is Perimenopause and When Does It Begin?

Every woman experiences the time surrounding menopause differently. Here are the stages you can expect: 

  • Perimenopause: This stage occurs when your estrogen and progesterone levels begin to fluctuate. Women can begin perimenopause as early as their mid-30s and as late as their 50s. You are more likely to experience perimenopause earlier if you smoke, are overweight or have a family history of early menopause. This transition time can last for a few months or several years.
  • Menopause: When you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months, you have completed menopause. This is a natural process that marks the end of your reproductive years. The average age of menopause is 51. Menopause can also occur after you have surgery to remove your ovaries (oophorectomy) and uterus (hysterectomy). These procedures are performed to prevent or treat gynecological cancers or diseases.
  • Post-menopause: Most women reach this “after menopause” stage by age 55. Even though you are no longer menstruating, it is still important to continue regular preventive screening and gynecological examinations. You may continue to experience some menopausal symptoms that gradually lessen over time.

What Are the Symptoms of Perimenopause?

There isn’t one test used to diagnose perimenopause. “Instead, we evaluate each woman’s symptoms to identify when they are beginning this transition,” says Babcock.

Common symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • Irregular periods and spotting
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness and infections
  • Urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections
  • Higher cholesterol levels
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Loss of bone mass

How Can I Treat Perimenopause Symptoms?

You may have heard stories about the challenges of dealing with perimenopause symptoms. However, today there are many treatments available to help you manage your symptoms.

“As a first step, we encourage women to make positive lifestyle changes,” says Babcock. She recommends these strategies:

  • Eat a healthy diet: Choose a heart-healthy diet high in fiber and low in fat. Fruits, vegetables, lean chicken and fish are all good choices. Avoid red meat and fried foods.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking liquids throughout the day can reduce your risk for urinary tract infections and improve your overall health. Choose water or decaffeinated and noncarbonated beverages to quench your thirst.
  • Get regular exercise: Build at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise into your schedule each week. Add in weight-bearing exercises or strength training to maintain bone mass and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Prepare for hot flashes: Dress in layers so you can take off a sweater or jacket if you feel a hot flash coming on. Keep rooms at a cooler temperature and carry a small battery-powered fan when you are away from home. Avoid foods that could trigger hot flashes, such as alcohol, caffeine and spicy dishes.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking may worsen your perimenopause symptoms. It also significantly increases your risk for many types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Track your menstrual cycle: Record when your period begins and ends and how much you bleed or spot each month. Also note any pelvic pain or cramping. This information can help your doctor identify whether your symptoms are due to perimenopause or whether you should be evaluated for other gynecological conditions, such as endometriosis.
  • Use relaxation techniques: Techniques such as meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy can help you relax, recharge, manage stress and sleep better.

If lifestyle changes do not relieve your symptoms, talk to your gynecologist or midwife about other options, including:

  • Birth control pills: During perimenopause, you can still get pregnant. For some women, birth control pills (oral contraceptives) may also help control heavy bleeding or irregular periods.
  • Antidepressants: For some women, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications provide relief from hot flashes.
  • Natural supplements: Some women choose natural supplements to relieve perimenopause symptoms. Always check with your physician before taking any dietary supplements. Even an herbal supplement can interfere with certain medications or cause unwanted side effects.
  • Acupuncture: Some women have found relief from painful cramps with this alternative method of healing.

Once you reach post-menopause, you can discuss treatment options like hormone replacement therapy with your doctor if you have ongoing symptoms.

“We encourage women to be proactive about their health. Take the opportunity to visit your physician and get a complete physical exam as well as appropriate preventive screening tests,” says Babcock. “Make positive lifestyle changes early to ease your transition into perimenopause and improve your overall health.”

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To schedule an appointment with a gynecologist or midwife at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936

Melodee Babcock, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health System. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center -- Livonia and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell