By Lee Merrill
enopause. What is your reaction when you hear that word? Your response is likely a result of how your mom or other influential women in your life felt about their own experiences. Today, our inner circles are enlarged by the influence of social media and the internet. With information at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to be informed and prepared for this inevitable transition in a woman’s life.
The Shreveport-Bossier area is fortunate to have quality medical professionals dedicated to female health. Dr. Kristi Michael, a board-certified OB/GYN with Ochsner LSU Health, has been in practice since 2002 and is passionate about providing her patients with the highest quality of care. She maintains her menopause practitioner certification through the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
“The definition of menopause is a year without a menstrual cycle,” Dr. Michael said. “Menopause is not like a light switch that gets turned off or on. It’s a several year transition. Just as it takes young women a couple of years to begin cycling regularly, it takes time for ovulation to stop altogether. When ovulation does not occur, women may experience symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and sleep dysfunction. Gradually, women ovulate less and less until they stop altogether.”
While some women ease into menopause with relative ease, other women experience symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, vaginal dryness, sleep disruption, mental sluggishness, mood fluctuations, reduced libido, and skin changes. Dr. Michael suggests simple lifestyle changes that can combat unpleasant menopausal symptoms. A heart-healthy diet rich in soy (a plant estrogen) is beneficial for overall health and for reducing menopausal symptoms. Avoiding hot beverages, spicy food and alcohol can also help. Regular exercise is important in all phases of life, but it can be especially important during menopause, as it boosts the mood, strengthens the heart, and slows bone loss that tends to occur after menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a viable option for many women. Advantages of HRT include: increased bone mass, improved mood, reduced vaginal dryness, protection for the heart and brain, reduced brain fog, and improved urinary symptoms. According to Dr. Michael, NAMS recommends “the lowest dose of hormone for the shortest period of time possible.” In her practice, she tends to prescribe a low dose and tapers off after a few years. Women with pre-existing heart disease or a history of breast cancer should avoid HRT. For women who need non-hormonal methods to relieve menopausal symptoms, Dr. Michael mentioned a low dose of paroxetine is commonly used to relieve hot flashes and improve sleep disruptions.
Although menopause can be a challenging time for women, guidance from menopause practitioners like Dr. Michael and support from women who’ve been there can help the transition be less of a burden. Menopause is a perfect time for women to pause and plan for the next season of living, which will be peppered with hard-earned wisdom and perspective. The post-menopause years could be a woman’s best years if she chooses. To learn more about menopause, visit NAMS at menopause.org.