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Menopause not an illness, but it can create some issues

Menopause not an illness, but it can create some issues

Menopause, or the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, is a natural biological process, not
Menopause not an illness, but it can create some issues
Nurse practitioner Terry Klausner prepares a maca powder lunch shake at her Amsterdam home. She says the powder, made from the maca root, helps ease hot flashes.
Photographer: Ana Zangroniz

“Is it hot in here?”

Anyone who has been around a menopausal woman has probably heard those words.

Theresa Klausner, a family nurse practitioner in Amsterdam, will present a free program on menopause, called “March Into Menopause,” during a dinner meeting from 5 to 7 tonight, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam.

The program is co-sponsored by Zonta of Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Menopause is slightly different for each woman, said Klausner. While some women have hot flashes and sleep problems, others have a new sense of freedom and energy.

Irregular periods are one of the first signs that menopause is approaching.

“Sometimes, a woman can miss months or she can get two in a month,” said Klausner. “All of a sudden, a women who was very regular will start having irregular periods, hot flashes and breast tenderness. Even irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion can be related.”

’March into Menopause’

WHERE: St. Mary’s Hospital, Amsterdam

WHEN: 5 to 7 p.m. today

HOW MUCH: Free.

MORE INFO: To register, call 841-7160.

Menopause, or the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, is a natural biological process, not a medical illness. Even so, the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause can disrupt your sleep, sap your energy and, in some women, trigger feelings of sadness and loss.

What does it all mean?

Hormonal changes cause the physical symptoms of menopause, but mistaken beliefs about the menopausal transition are partly to blame for the emotional ones, said Klausner.

First, menopause doesn’t mean the end is near — you’ve still got as much as half your life to go. Second, menopause will not snuff out your femininity and sexuality. In fact, you may be one of the many women who finds it liberating to stop worrying about pregnancy and periods.

Most important, even though menopause is not an illness, you shouldn’t hesitate to get treatment if you’re having severe symptoms. Many treatments are available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy, said Klausner.

“The average age for menopause is between 50 and 52,” said Klausner. “But I’ve had women go into menopause much earlier and other women who are 53 or 54 and still having periods.”

The signs and symptoms of menopause, however, often appear long before the one-year anniversary of your final period. They include irregular periods, decreased fertility, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, increased abdominal fat, thinning hair and loss of breast fullness.

“Perimenopause, the time before menopause can last up to 10 years,” said Klausner, who at 53 is going through menopause herself. “I see a lot of depression, sometimes aches and pains, headaches, urinary frequency and urgency especially right before the perimenopausal period. Once you start to flow, things calm down.”

Menopause begins naturally when your ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate menstruation. The process starts in your late 30s. The changes are more pronounced in your 40s, and eventually your ovaries shut down and you have no more periods.

Klausner stressed it’s important for women to have an annual gynecological examination, including a pap smear during perimenopause and after menopause.

Signs normally evident

The signs and symptoms of menopause are enough to tell most women they have begun going through the transition.

“If the symptoms are intolerable or affect your daily lifestyle, you need to have them addressed,” said Klausner.

While hormone replacement therapy remains controversial, Klausner said some women with debilitating symptoms may try a low dose for a short term to alleviate symptoms.

“The goal right now is that you don’t want to be on it for longer than five years because it does increase your chances of breast cancer because of the estrogen,” said Klausner. “Vaginal estrogen is also very helpful for women who have dry and painful intercourse.”

Low dose antidepressants are helpful for reducing hot flashes and irritability.

Osteoporosis concern

Some doctors recommend bisphosphonates such as Fosamax, Actonel or Boniva, to prevent or treat osteoporosis. These medications effectively reduce both bone loss and your risk of fractures and have replaced estrogen as the main treatment for osteoporosis in women.

Evista, a selective estrogen receptor modulator, mimics estrogen’s beneficial effects on bone density in postmenopausal women without some of the risks associated with estrogen. It also protects women against breast cancer said Klausner.

Klausner also recommends 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day with 1,000 units of vitamin D along with adequate amounts of exercise to maintain and build bones.

Try to eat a balanced diet every day and keep your weight down.

“As aging women, when we are into menopause, our chances of cardiovascular disease increase. So we are just as much at risk as men to have a heart attack or stroke,” said Klausner, who recently lost 24 pounds. “A healthy weight keeps our blood pressure down, which helps prevent stroke and heart attack. It also helps to keep our cholesterol down unless we have a genetic issue.”

Some women use over-the-counter supplements such as evening primrose oil, vitamin E, vitamin B, vitamin D, green tea and black cohosh to treat symptoms associated with menopause. Klausner also recommends maca root, a Peruvian herb, that eases hot flashes.

“Soy is another controversial topic,” said Klausner. “But if a glass of soy milk, even on a short-term basis, helps a woman with her hot flashes until she gets through menopause, then I always say everything in moderation.”

Input from panel

At tonight’s dinner meeting, there will also be a panel of speakers to answer questions.

On the panel will be Dr. Robert Lobel, gynourologist, Dr. Sean Ryan, obstetrician, gynecologist; and Rosemary McGuire, physical therapist.

For information, contact the public relations department at St. Mary’s Hospital, Amsterdam.

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