Cooling menopause symptoms

Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 at 3:40 p.m.

Q: I just turned 50. The kids are at college; the house is almost paid for; you'd think I'd be happy. But I'm getting hot flashes, and I'm grumpy all the time. There's no second honeymoon in our house! Do I just have to live with this?

— Nancy J., Washington D.C.

A: Many women in their 50s feel ambushed by conditions related to menopause. In addition to hot flashes, you may have brain fog, heart palpitations, mood swings, sleep problems and less interest in sex. In fact, declining hormone levels can lead to vaginal atrophy — around half of women say intercourse becomes so painful (because of thinning, fragile tissue) that they avoid it. Plus, there are the risks to your heart health and long-term brain function.

Fortunately, menopause symptoms don't have to put you on the sidelines of your life. You can be as energetic, engaged and frisky in the bedroom as you want to be! And that's big news for the 72 percent of women (like you) who are getting no treatment at all for menopause symptoms!

First: Don't rule out hormone therapy. If you're not at increased risk for heart disease or breast cancer, before age 60, up to five years of taking micronized progesterone and bioequivalent estrogen can banish symptoms. (Ask your doc about taking two baby aspirins a day while on hormones to protect you from potential heart problems.) And older women can safely use topical estrogen to restore vaginal health.

Lifestyle changes also help: Get sweaty — on purpose. Exercise can improve your quality of life and sometimes reduces hot flashes. Dropping just 10 percent of your weight can cut hot flashes and improve sleep. Practice deep breathing when symptoms hit. Inhale slowly and deeply for a count of four; then exhale slowly for a count of eight. And use focus and memory techniques: Keep distractions to a minimum; write down what you want to remember; repeat specifics out loud to yourself; and optimize your sleeping environment (keep it cool and quiet), because nothing improves brain power like a good night's rest.

Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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