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18 Things Every Woman Should Know About Menopause

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In Your 50s: What's Happening to Me?

The average woman hits menopause at age 51. Ovaries stop secreting estrogen and progesterone and ovulation ends. Once you've gone without menstruating for a year, consider yourself postmenopausal.

To-Do List

Conquer These Symptoms. A whopping 72% of women with menopausal issues aren't treated. Why? "Fears about hormonal therapy and confusion about the safety and effectiveness of other options keep women from seeking help," says Cynthia Stuenkel, M.D., clinical professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of California-San Diego. But those aren't your only options.

While nearly 25% of women won't have bothersome symptoms, most of us will, and they last for four years on average. "It's not like menopause symptoms will kill you, but you don't have to suffer!" says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. The Endocrine Society developed the Menopause Map to help you navigate treatment choices. Also, experiment with solutions like the ones our experts recommend below.

1. Do Away with Hot Flashes and Night Sweats

When dressing in layers and waking up drenched in sweat get old, consider black cohosh. Popping high doses of the herb reduced the number of hot flashes by a third for women who took it for a year in one study, says Dr. Allmen. Try 20 mg of the brand Remifemin (drugstore.com, $21) twice a day. Not interested in cohosh? Try Poise's roll-on cooling gel (drugstores nationwide, $8).

2. Turn Off Tension

Daily pressures can crank up your worry meter, and anxiety makes you up to five times more vulnerable to hot flashes. Dr. Hutcherson notes that many of her patients respond well to acupuncture. "It addresses anxiety and stress as well as difficulty sleeping and hot flashes," she says.

3. Overcome Insomnia

Being pulled in a dozen different directions and can't wind down and catch some shut-eye? Consider prescription sleep aids like Ambien or Lunesta.

4. Sharpen a Foggy Brain

To reiterate: You're not losing your marbles. Fuzzy-headed happenings (where is my purse?) are a real phenomenon for menopausal women, according to research from the University of Rochester. Donnica Moore, M.D., advises patients to address sleep problems first: "Exhaustion is usually at the root of concentration and focus issues," she says.

5. Up Your Pleasure

Enjoying intimate moments is tricky when it hurts to have them. Painful sex is most likely caused by declining estrogen levels that lead to down-there dryness. Try moisturizers like Replens (drugstore.com, $17) and lubricants like KY Jelly (drugstore.com, $5) to enhance comfort.

6. Beat Irritability

Sufficient sleep helps (yes, we know; easier said than done), and some women find OTC meds such as Estroven (drugstore.com, $12) or Amberen (drugstore.com, $50) useful.

The Truth About Hormone Therapy

First we heard it raises your risk of heart attacks, blood clots, breast cancer and stroke. Then word was it's safe. Today the tide has turned back to hormone therapy (HT) as a viable option if you're suffering from moderate to severe symptoms, are younger than 59, aren't at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke and don't have a personal history of breast cancer. "It's safe overall for women within 10 years of the start of menopause," says Dr. Stuenkel. "The risks are real but they're small, and HT remains the best way to improve hot flashes, sleep disruption and vaginal symptoms." The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently concluded HT shouldn't be used to prevent chronic diseases like dementia. Short-term use at the lowest dose is the safest course.

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