Menopause: It’s a rite of passage for all women. But, ask any woman who is going through it— or has gone through it—and she can likely tell you a list of uncomfortable side effects she had to bear.
“Menopause is when your period stops for at least 12 months in a row and usually happens between the ages of 45-55,” said Lydia Hostetler, DO, a gynecologist and obstetrician with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, Colorado. “There are many side effects you can experience with menopause, but every woman is different so you may be affected by all, some, or even none.”
Common menopause symptoms and side effects
Some women rejoice at the sign of no more monthly periods, but the other side effects of menopause could be a different story. You should never feel embarrassed or shy about discussing your symptoms with your doctor, as there are ways your provider can help you get relief from these, and other, menopause symptoms:
- Hot flashes: When you feel a sudden flush of heat in your upper body, often accompanied by sweating, this is a hot flash. Hot flashes are the most common side effect of menopause, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, and as many as 3 out of 4 women experience this symptom.
- Night sweats: These periods of heavy sweating during your sleep can cause discomfort and interrupted sleep.
- Insomnia: It may seem like menopause is attacking your sleep on three fronts: trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or being awoken by night sweats.
- Vaginal dryness and decreased sexual function: The decrease in estrogen that comes with menopause can cause vaginal dryness, which in turn may make sexual intercourse painful.
- Mood changes: Menopause-related hormone changes can lead to feelings of irritability, depression, and fogginess.
“Experiencing any of these symptoms during perimenopause or menopause is completely normal,” said Dr. Hostetler. “Symptoms are different for every woman and may depend on genetic factors, and the severity of symptoms is usually lessened as you get further from the onset of menopause.”
Treatment options to ease your symptoms
The good news for menopause sufferers, according to Dr. Hostetler, is that “there are many medications we can use to treat menopausal symptoms.” Your options might include:
- Hormonal birth control: Taking a low-dose birth control pill can help reduce hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood irregularities.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): This prescription therapy replaces the low levels of natural estrogen and progesterone in your body with artificial versions of the hormones.
- Antidepressants: A low-dose selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) can help treat menopause-related depression, mood swings, and even hot flashes.
Dr. Hostetler notes that a nerve pain medication called gabapentin is also now being prescribed to help menopausal women through hot flashes.
“There are also non-medication ways to attain relief with menopause symptoms, including using a fan at night for relief with night sweats, dressing in layers you can remove when a hot flash comes on, and trying cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness to get through the mental and emotional side effects of menopause,” explained Dr. Hostetler.
When deciding which treatments are best for you, it’s very important to discuss with your doctor the possible risk factors, which can be serious and are different from one woman to the next.
Schedule an appointment with a Banner Health women’s health specialist today to discuss your menopause treatment options.