Menopause is the natural biological process that occurs in every woman’s life at which point her ovaries stop producing eggs and her hormone levels decline. For many women, this transitional period brings about bothersome symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and increased anxiety or irritability.
When Does Menopause Occur?
Women may experience symptoms as early as age 40 or as late as age 55, with the average age for women to go through menopause being 51.
Menopause occurs in three phases often stretching over a period of several years. These phases are:
- Perimenopause: This is the transition time leading up to the last menstrual period when a woman’s body begins gradually producing lower levels of hormones.
- Menopause: This stage occurs when it has been one year since a woman’s last period. The ovaries no longer produce eggs or much estrogen.
- Post-menopause: In the years following menopause, menopausal symptoms may decrease or cease altogether for some women. For others, the bothersome hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness can persist for years.
While you can’t prevent menopause, your physician may help you manage the symptoms through hormone replacement therapy. Designed primarily to help manage hot flashes, hormone replacement therapy may also yield benefits in other areas including improved mood and reduced fatigue.
What are the Symptoms?
The severity of perimenopause and menopause symptoms can vary and this can last for up to 7-10 years, though frequency and severity will generally taper off as a woman progresses through menopause. Common signs to look out for include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Low sex drive
- Dry eyes, skin and mouth
- Vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse
- Emotional changes (mood swings, irritability)
- Changes in urinary frequency
- Hair loss
- Memory problems
How Hormone Replacement Therapy Can Help
With the onset of menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone—which is what triggers symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can not only help relieve menopause symptoms but also protect against osteoporosis. As with any medical treatment, there are risks associated with HRT, but it remains the most effective treatment for perimenopause and menopause symptoms.
Types of Hormone Replacement Therapy
Your physician will test your hormone levels, and together you will determine which type of hormone replacement therapy is best for you. Some regimens contain both estrogen and progesterone, while others may only contain estrogen and, sometimes, testosterone.
These hormones may be produced synthetically or derived from compounds that occur naturally in plants; this is the basis for bioidentical hormones. Bioidentical hormones are marketed as safer, however, there is no scientific evidence proving they are safer or more effective than traditional HRT.
Hormone replacement therapy is administered in various forms with a pill, patch, or vaginal cream or gel. Physicians recommend transdermal methods of delivery for estrogen, as the skin absorbs them into the bloodstream without having them pass through the liver.
When to Consult a Physician
Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology specializes in the management and treatment of menopause. If the symptoms of menopause are interfering with your daily life, you may benefit from hormone replacement therapy or other available treatment methods. Call (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment today.