Menopause and the time leading up to it, known as perimenopause, can present a host of issues for women, including mood shifts, painful sex and changes in metabolism and weight gain.
“Everyone thinks menopause is hot flashes and night sweats, but it’s more nuanced and complex,” said Monica Christmas, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. “Symptoms associated with menopause can begin seven to 10 years before a woman goes into menopause.”
Also read: Why are celebrities talking about menopause? Once taboo, the topic moves into mainstream conversation.
Here are some things to consider if you’re having menopause-related symptoms.
Be cautious about over-the-counter treatments
“There’s a lot of snake oil out there for menopause management. There’s a whole lot of products that are worthless. Basically anything over the counter doesn’t work,” said Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health.
Be wary of any “bioidentical hormone therapy” that claims to be safer than hormone therapy provided by a physician, said Christmas. Such over-the-counter therapies are not backed by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Bioidenticals are not safer and may even be more harmful,” she said.
Stay on top of your annual checkups and routine screenings
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an organization made up of doctors and disease experts who look at research on the best way to prevent diseases, recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years.
For colorectal cancer screenings, the task force recommends regular screening beginning at age 45. Cervical cancer screening is recommended for people with a cervix.
And don’t forget your bones. Women over age 50 with risk factors such as a family history of osteoporosis, frequent falling, vitamin D deficiency, smoking or excessive alcohol consumption should get a bone-density test, and in general, all women over 65 should get a test, according to the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation.
Pay attention to your diet and get your exercise
To reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, doctors generally recommend weight-bearing exercise such as walking or running and eating a Mediterranean-style diet that’s low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat.
Getting a good night’s sleep is also crucial. Many women suffer sleep problems during perimenopause, and those problems can linger during menopause and after. Women should aim for between seven and eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep per night as a benchmark, though the ideal amount varies by woman.
Find a provider with a background in menopause care
If you are looking for a healthcare provider, the North American Menopause Society offers a list of NAMS-certified menopause practitioners who must pass a test in menopause treatment and care.
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