Though not all women going through the menopause experience severe symptoms, many find that they suffer from the following:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness
- mood swings
- urinary tract infections
Of the women who are frequently troubled by these symptoms, not all wish to undergo Hormone Replacement Therapy, either because of the risks associated or simply out of personal preference.
If you are seeking alternative treatments to soothe and alleviate the symptoms of the menopause, there are many options available including lifestyle changes and other prescribed medicines.
For menopausal women, there are various benefits related to doing exercise. Falling oestrogen levels can lead to osteoporosis and put you at a greater risk of getting heart disease. Doing certain kinds of exercise can make you fitter, healthier and stronger without putting too much of a strain on your bones or your heart. Good sorts of exercise for menopausal women include:
Regular exercise can also help you sleep better (combating the insomnia sometimes associated with the menopause), and improve your mood (exercise releases endorphins). Losing weight will also put less pressure on your bones and heart, and has been shown to reduce hot flushes.
Spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol have all been shown to trigger hot flushes in menopausal women, meaning you might want to avoid or cut down on these kinds of things. On the other hand, you might think about increasing the amount of calcium in your diet to protect against osteoporosis. Drinking milk and eating cheese, yoghurt and sardines are very good ways of getting lots of calcium - although you should be careful not to overload your diet with fatty foods. Soya and red clover are also thought to help with menopausal symptoms.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are two types of antidepressant that have been shown to reduce hot flushes in menopausal women. Not all women will find that these medicines have an effect on their hot flushes, however, and those that successfully take SSRIs or SNRIs might also experience some side effects, such as nausea and reduced sex drive.
If you are suffering from vaginal dryness or irritation that is proving particularly problematic during sex, you might find that applying some lubricant directly to the vagina beforehand helps significantly. It is also worth noting that topical oestrogen-only HRT treatments such as vaginal creams and rings are not associated with the same levels of risk as patches or tablets, and are very effective treatments for this problem.
Some general changes that you can make to help manage your symptoms are:
- wearing lighter-weight clothing
- sleeping in a cooler room
- giving up smoking
- reducing the amount of alcohol you drink
- trying to reduce your stress levels
A main consideration when it comes to managing the symptoms of the menopause is that they often take the biggest toll upon your psychological health. Some women find it hard to cope with becoming infertile and growing older, alongside the stress associated with symptoms such as insomnia, hot flushes and mood swings. If you are finding it hard to cope emotionally, then you might consider talking to a counsellor or therapist. It also helps to be open and honest with your family and friends, and to avoid concealing what your body is going through.
If you do not find that alternative therapies work to alleviate your symptoms, you can speak to your doctor about starting HRT.
For more information, see Menopause Symptoms.