Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Happens After Menopause?


Will the hot flashes, mood swings, and other symptoms of menopause come to a halt when your periods are finally finished? Find out what to expect in the years after menopause.


Though you may have some idea of what’s in store for you as you head toward menopause, the stage of life when the ovaries stop producing eggs and menstrual cycles dwindle, you may not quite know what to expect when your periods are officially over.
A woman is medically defined as being in menopause when she has not had a menstrual cycle for at least 12 months, says Kevin Audlin, MD, a gynecologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. At that point, the transition into your non-child-bearing years is complete.
After Your Period Stops
The permanent end of menstrual periods doesn’t necessarily mean the end of bothersome menopause symptoms, however. The symptoms typically associated with menopause, like hot flashes and mood swings, can occur for some time both before and after that point.
“There’s a window of about eight years in which women can feel those flashes and sweats,” Dr. Audlin says.
Women who have reached menopause can expect menopause symptoms to become worse than they were during perimenopause, the 2- to 10-year stage leading up to the permanent end of menstruation. Experts don’t know exactly why this happens, but it’s believed to be related to the hypothalamus, the portion of the brain that regulates temperature.
“The hypothalamus is acutely responsive to estrogens,” Audlin says. “Leading up to menopause, your estrogen levels fluctuate. When they’re high, you don’t have symptoms. But when you go into menopause and there’s a complete lack of estrogen, you start to notice those symptoms more.”
Managing Menopause Symptoms
Replacing the missing estrogen in the body with medication can help relieve hot flashes and night sweats. However, women who take hormone replacement therapy usually find that their hot flashes will resume years later, when they go off the drugs.
“If you give a woman hormones until the age of 70, she’ll get hot flashes then, when she stops taking them,” Audlin says.
Some non-hormonal methods are available for relieving menopause symptoms. Certain antidepressants, such as Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) and Effexor ( venlafaxine), have been proven to be effective hot flash treatments.
But, Audlin says, the simplest way to take control of your physical symptoms is to stay in good health. Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and getting enough sleep at night can all help a woman stay stronger, which makes her more able to withstand the changes that occur as estrogen levels drop.
“Women who do these things are less likely to be bothered by hot flashes, and they get less of them,” Audlin says.

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