When you think of signs and symptoms of menopause, hot flashes top the list. They are a hallmark of menopause. But once you start experiencing them, you may not know what sets them off. Keeping a diary can help you identify triggers. Keep a notebook and jot down where you are and what you are doing when you experience hot flashes. Many women find that stress, caffeine, hot weather, and alcohol are common triggers. You may be able to cool yourself off by taking slow, deep breaths when hot flashes start. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. See your doctor if hot flashes are particularly bad.
Some women experience hot flashes that are so severe that they interfere with sleep. If that happens to you, there are things you can do to stay cooler and help you sleep. Wear pajamas made of thin, breathable fabric. Use light layers of sheets and blankets instead of a thick comforter or quilt. Place a fan in the bedroom. Keep a bag of frozen veggies under your pillow when you sleep. If you wake up, flip the pillow over so that your face is always in contact with the cool surface.
Exercise to ease menopause symptoms and improve sleep. Try tai chi and yoga. Meditation helps, too. Make sure to exercise 3 hours before bedtime because it might keep you up at night. You might be tempted to have a nightcap. Alcohol may make you drowsy, but it increases your risk of waking up throughout the night and reduces sleep quality. Drinking warm milk may help you sleep because it contains tryptophan. If you can't sleep after spending about 15 minutes in bed, get up and do something that is relaxing, like reading a book. If you really can't sleep after trying these methods, see your doctor for help.
Certain hormones decrease in menopause, leading to symptoms of vaginal dryness and thinning. This may make sex painful. Reach for over-the-counter, water-based vaginal lubricants or moisturizer. Your doctor has prescription-strength versions of these products as well in addition to pills and vaginal rings. Sex increases blood flow to the tissues, which keeps them healthy.
As hormone levels decrease during menopause, so may sexual desire. There are strategies you can use to help you get in the mood. Massage, foreplay, new routines, and massage may help increase your desire for sex. And don't rush things. Give yourself extra time to become aroused. Decreased hormone levels may not be the only reason you are not in the mood. Bladder issues, stress, depression, or sleep trouble may also contribute. Speak to your doctor if you believe these underlying causes are hindering your sex life.
One minute you're up, the next you're down. Welcome to the up and down moods associated with menopause. Women who were prone to PMS before menopause may be more likely to experience bigger mood swings during menopause. Practice yoga and tai chi to make the transition easier. Engage in enjoyable activities with your family and friends. Some women need a prescription for antidepressants or low-dose birth control pills to ease mood symptoms. Alternative treatments may be helpful, too.
Some women notice a worsening of migraines during menopause. Some women may develop migraines for the first time during menopause. Keeping a headache diary may help you identify what triggers your migraines. Some common triggers include stress, dehydration, hunger, and temperature changes. Get sufficient rest. Nap if you have to. Eat regularly throughout the day and add snacks to keep your blood sugar steady. Stay well hydrated. If you get frequent or severe migraines, see your doctor for prescriptions to prevent or treat debilitating headaches.
Many women notice thinning hair and hair loss during menopause. Another unwanted effect of this time is that women may grow unwanted hair on their cheeks and chin. Use gentle haircare products, including hair coloring that is free from toxic chemicals. Stay out of the sun, which dries hair. Ask your dermatologist about what the best strategy is for unwanted facial hair. You may need to wax, bleach, tweeze, or laser it off, depending on your situation.
Acne is a fixture for many during the teen years, but it can also happen in your 50s during menopause. Use gentle, noncomedogenic products -- including cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen -- that won't clog pores. Make sure to choose oil-free products. Cleanser containing salicylic acid can help keep pores clear. If you're not able to manage acne on your own using over-the-counter products, see your dermatologist for stronger prescription acne solutions.
Are you fuzzy, foggy, and can't think straight? Many women report brain fog during menopause. Keep your mind sharp by learning new things. Take up a hobby. Learn a new language. Take art classes. Women who experience more hot flashes also report more memory problems. Increased hot flashes are linked to stress, so keep your stress levels low.
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- Maturitas: “Mind-Body Therapies for Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review.”
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Adult Acne," “Caring for Your Skin in Menopause.”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Hair Loss in Women,” "Menopause and Sex," Menopause and Sleep Concerns."
- Drogos, L. Menopause, published online May 13, 2013.
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- International Dermal Institute: "How Does Menopause Affect the Skin?"
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Menopause Symptoms and Complementary Health Practices."
- National Health Service: "Hormone Headaches."
- National Sleep Foundation: "Menopause and Sleep."
- North American Menopause Society: “Breast Cancer Survivors & Hot Flash Treatments,” “Decreased Desire,” "Depression & Menopause," "FAQs: Body Changes & Symptoms," "Five Solutions for Menopause Symptoms," "Menonote: Treating Hot Flashes," "My-Oh Migraine, Hormonal Headaches and Menopause," Other Body Changes Affecting Sexuality," "Urinary Incontinence."
- WomensHealth.gov: "Menopause and Menopause Symptoms Fact Sheet."
- Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine: “Midlife Women’s Attributions about Perceived Memory Changes: Observations from the Seattle Midlife Women’s Healthy Study.”