In this Q & A, Women’s Health America founder Marla Ahlgrimm answers questions about one of life’s most anticipated and often misunderstood physical changes.
Q: We know menopause is “the change of life” when a woman naturally loses her fertility. What causes it?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Menopause, and its predecessor, perimenopause, happen when the body’s hormone levels begin to drop. In women over 40, this is a very natural process and signals that childbearing years are over. Perimenopause can last for up to eight years or more.
Q: How can a woman tell when menopause begins?
Marla Ahlgrimm: One of the first indications that change is on the horizon is periods that are lighter or missed. Insomnia, night sweats, irritability, and even depression are also common. Osteoporosis, a condition where the bones thin faster than previously, is another indicator that can cause long-term damage if not controlled. Many women report their most bothersome symptom is vaginal dryness, which affects the desire for intercourse.
Q: Is there an official diagnosis for menopause?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Yes, doctors nowadays will usually offer a clinical diagnosis of menopause. This is typically based on a woman’s own account of her symptoms. Women who are under the age of 40 may need laboratory testing to confirm the condition. Many OBGYNs and primary health providers also recommend bone density screening at this time.
Q: What are some ways that a woman can relieve some of the discomforts associated with hormonal changes that occur during menopause?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The best advice that any woman can hear is to simply live a healthy lifestyle, all of the time. Drink water instead of soda, don’t smoke, stay active, and get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Beyond that, if symptoms become unmanageable, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is an option. HRT involves replacing waning hormones with lab-created identical hormones. Estrogen and Progesterone are the two chemicals that are restored through HRT and work together to relieve vaginal dryness, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, and hot flashes.