Managing menopause: 3 strategies to help you on your journey

As women age, they produce less and less female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone until one day they no longer menstruate. Otherwise known as “the change,” a woman has officially reached menopause when she has not had a period in 12 months. This typically happens as women approach middle age and can cause a range of symptoms, sometimes referred to as genitourinary syndrome, including issues with the genital system (for example, vaginal dryness, soreness, itching, and burning), issues around sexual activity (for example, painful intercourse), and issues of the lower urinary tract (for example, urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence). Hot flashes and night sweats are also common, affecting up to 85% of all women. In addition to these unpleasant symptoms, menopause can bring with it a host of complications, such as the increased risk of bone loss and osteoporosis.

Whether you’re well into your journey through menopause or are nearing the start of this next chapter of your life, there are a few evidence-based strategies available to help women deal with the most commons symptoms and complications that accompany menopause. 

1. Vaginal estrogen: For certain single symptoms – such vaginal dryness – over the counter lubricants and moisturizers may bring adequate relief. But for multiple or more severe symptoms, vaginal estrogens are recommended as the next step. The evidence shows all types of vaginal estrogen effectively relieve symptoms of menopause and may also help reduce the frequency of urinary tract infection. Vaginal estrogens are considered generally safe, but more research on long-term effects is needed. 

2. Hormone replacement therapy patches: Hormone replacement therapy patches, isoflavones, and black cohosh can help reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats. These strategies appear to be generally safe but keep in mind that the safety and effectiveness of alternative therapies can be differ based on the way they are prepared. 
3. Exercise: Research suggests that exercise programs that combine multiple forms of exercise—generally resistance training and aerobic exercise—can enhance bone mineral density levels by a small amount in postmenopausal women, compared to usual levels of activity.

As you navigate this time in your life, it is helpful to be proactive and initiate or maintain dialogue with your health care provider. Inquire about the various stages of menopause and what they entail, be transparent regarding the symptoms you are experiencing or are concerned about for the future, seek information on available treatment options and strategies that reduce your risk of complications, weigh the potential benefits and risks of such treatments for you as an individual, and collaborate in the development of a plan that works best for you.

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