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Menopause: Women's Health at UPMC in Central Pa.

Menopause is normal transition of the body for women when they no longer get their period for 12 months in a row. On average, women enter menopause around age 52. Most women will not experience menopause all at once and will continue to have irregular periods as their body transitions. This transition can take anywhere from 10 months to four years.

What are common symptoms of menopause?

Common symptoms that women may see include:

  • Hot flashes – These cause a sudden feeling of heat, and you could have sweating during the hot flash, followed by chills and shivering.
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Irregular periods
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Urinary problems
  • Mood changes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Low libido or sex drive
  • Difficulty sleeping

What is hormone replacement therapy for menopause and is it safe?

This is a prescription medicine that helps to relieve hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. While hormone replacement therapy is safe, it does have some risks. The Food and Drug Administration recommends using the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time as needed.

It is important to discuss this decision with your health care provider.

How does menopause affect my health?

After menopause your body makes very little of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This can raise women’s risk of the following health problems.

  • Heart disease: When estrogen is low, it can cause cholesterol to start building up in the arteries of the heart. Estrogen helps to relax blood vessels and helps to maintain a healthy balance of good and bad cholesterol in the body.
  • Stroke: The risk of stroke doubles every decade after age 55. Lower levels of estrogen could cause cholesterol build up on the artery walls leading to the brain.
  • Osteoporosis: Less estrogen after menopause causes women to lose bone mass, which puts them at risk for osteoporosis or weakened bones.
  • Urinary incontinence: About 50 percent of women will have some degree of urinary incontinence.
  • Oral issues: Dry mouth and cavities are more common after menopause.

What is the best way for a woman to stay healthy during and after menopause?

  • Exercise: It is recommended that women get 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
  • Healthy diet: It is important to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, getting the necessary vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
  • If you smoke, quit: Smoking can lead to heart disease and cancer. It is also important to stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Practice safe sex: It is important to know that as your body transitions, you can still get pregnant. Use birth control to prevent pregnancy. After menopause, be sure to use a condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections or diseases.

What are the resources for women regarding questions about menopause and perimenopause?

The best resource is your primary care provider or your gynecologist. Women should continue to have yearly physical exams throughout their lives and discuss any concerns with their provider.

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