Coping with your menopause symptoms

Women's Health
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Life is full of change, especially if you're a woman. In your teenage years, puberty comes with a wide range of new feelings, physically and emotionally. As you get older, you navigate other changes, such as shifts in your body, new experiences like pregnancy and childbirth, and, eventually, menopause.

Menopause can be a turbulent time of change for many women. Typically viewed as the final menstrual period, menopause is when a woman doesn't have her period for 12 months in a row (with no other obvious causes).

In the US, most women go through menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, and the average age of menopause is 51.

Menopause may be seen as a less-than-exciting and sometimes scary time. However, not only is it completely normal, there are ways to navigate the unfortunate symptoms as well as take a different perspective on this time of your life.

Here's how to manage menopause symptoms and take care of yourself along the way.

How to alleviate menopause (and perimenopause) symptoms

Menopause symptoms may not be fun, but fortunately, they're temporary for most women. While it's true that the menopausal transition can last for many years, the bulk of your symptoms will actually occur leading up to menopause during a time called perimenopause.

Perimenopause usually lasts anywhere from 4 to 8 years. It starts with a change in the length of time between periods, and it ends a year after your final period. Some women experience little to no changes during perimenopause. Other women experience common symptoms, which are completely normal — but also frustrating.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage these symptoms:

  • Night sweats (or hot flashes while you sleep)—Dress in cool clothing at night, use an electric fan, and keep a frozen cold pack under your pillow or by your feet.
  • Mood swings—Use relaxation techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises, massage, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and staying active, and setting aside time for yourself. If your mood swings feel unmanageable, talk to your healthcare provider about other options, such as antidepressant medications to correct a chemical imbalance.
  • Urinary incontinence—Drink plenty of water, avoid foods and drinks with high amounts of acid or caffeine (like grapefruit, oranges, coffee, and caffeinated soda), and do Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Decreased sex driveBoost your energy and mood with physical activity, allow extra time for arousal during sex, and talk to your partner about what feels good (and what doesn't).

If any of your symptoms feel overwhelming or they won't subside, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. While some ways to manage symptoms may work for some women, they may not work for others. Together, you and your provider can find the best approach to making yourself comfortable as possible during menopause.

Changing your perspective about menopause

While it's true that menopause can be uncomfortable and downright painful, it can be helpful to shift your perspective just a bit — starting with a few perks.

No more period symptoms

Your monthly period often comes with symptoms, such as cramping, bloating, food cravings, mood swings, and fatigue — to name a few. If you're lucky, these symptoms have been mostly minimal. But some women experience debilitating pain that keeps them from engaging in their daily activities for several days each month.

For some women, menopause is a welcome reprieve from the pain of periods. Rather than spending this time attached to your heating pad or asleep in bed, you can spend your period-free days as you please.

No more concerns about getting pregnant

From birth control pills to IUDs to hormonal patches, there are plenty of approaches you might use to prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, while effective in their own way, each of these options comes with some side effects. For instance, oral contraceptives (or birth control pills) can cause nausea, weight gain/loss, acne, and (more) cramps.

With menopause, concerns about getting pregnant decrease and eventually go away completely. However, you can still get pregnant during perimenopause, which are the months leading up to menopause. If getting pregnant is not in your plan, use a form of contraception for one full year after your last period.

Also, menopause doesn't mean you don't have to worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Fortunately, condoms are always a great form of protection against STIs. If you are not in a monogamous relationship (where you and your partner only have sex with each other), use a condom to protect both of you.

Taking care of yourself during this transition

Change can be scary, but it can also be a great time to reflect on the past and use it to shape a positive future.

Think of menopause as a new beginning and try to stay focused on:

  • Laughter, both with others and with yourself
  • "Me-time," whether that's through exercise, meditation, journaling, or all of the above
  • Connections, especially with others who make you feel good
  • Positive things that are happening in your life right now

What's more, every woman will experience this transition at some point in their lives if they're blessed enough to get older. This is a great time to support other women who are also on this journey. Talk to your friends about coping strategies and ways to get through it together.

Menopause may come with its ups and downs, but it's certainly a rite of passage. By managing and being patient with the unfortunate symptoms of menopause, you can make the most of this transition in your life.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, find a provider online or 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654).

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