About Early Menopause
The average age a woman goes into menopause is 51. Menopause is considered abnormal when it begins before the age of 40 and is called “premature ovarian failure.” Common symptoms that come with menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, sexual issues, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, pelvic floor disorders (urine, bowel leakage, pelvic organ prolapse), losing bone mass, and mood swings.
Menopause is mostly genetically predetermined, which means you generally can’t do much to delay it from happening. What we can do is work to counter-balance or prevent the symptoms and effects that tend to develop during menopause.
What You Can Do
Women can do a lot of things to prepare themselves for changes that will come with menopause. These include modifying our lifestyles so we are eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Diet and Exercise
Related to diet, women should look into their caloric intake and make adjustments like eating smaller meal portions, and eating a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fiber and protein and less carbohydrates. Avoid eating late at night or snacking, which means no eating two to three hours before bed time.
Take calcium and vitamin D supplements for bone health to prevent osteoporosis. Well-balanced food with decreased caffeine intake also helps to decrease night sweats.
Exercise is one of the most important and modifiable factors that all women must take advantage of. Cardio workouts including walking or jogging three times a week will boost your cardiovascular system and endurance, and also help you control your weight. It’s also important to do weight-bearing exercises regularly to build up bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Kegel exercises can help prevent pelvic floor disorders (urine, bowel leakage, pelvic organ prolapse). Kegel exercises should ideally be done every day three times a day. Every woman needs to know how to do Kegel exercises properly. Unfortunately, many women think they do Kegel exercises when, in fact, they do not, because the muscles are hidden inside the body. Your physician should be able to help you with it. You can do long squeezes for 10 seconds, or fast squeezes. This helps to maintain strength and endurance of the pelvic muscles in order to prevent urinary or bowel leakages in the future.
If possible, I recommend having regular sex. It improves vaginal lubrication and helps to prevent vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse. It is also good for your overall mood.
Finally, every women should work on developing a positive attitude, and spending time in a healthy environment helps – for example, taking frequent walks in a park or whatever makes you feel good; finding a way to de-stress and/or control any stress in your life. This will improve your mental health.
Hormonal treatment for early menopause and menopause has been out of favor because of concerns with breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. With that said, it is still gold-standard treatment especially for hot flashes and night sweats. Hormonal therapies could offer significant benefits to women especially those going through early menopause. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
A woman going through early menopause is still fertile. Unless you don’t have periods at all anymore, there is still a risk that you can get pregnant, so it’s important to use some form of contraception to avoid pregnancy.
Tatiana V. Sanses, MD, is Assistant Professor of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine and Director of Outreach Program for Urogynecology at University of Maryland Medical System.