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Managing Perimenopausal Symptoms

Managing Perimenopausal Symptoms

If you're having hot flashes, problems sleeping and other perimenopausal symptoms, try these options for relief.

Menopause & Aging Well

If you're having irregular bleeding, hot flashes, problems sleeping and other perimenopausal symptoms, you may want to explore your options for relief. Perimenopause—the time leading up to menopause, when your menstrual periods cease—can last several years and cause significant discomfort for some women.

For relief from severe perimenopausal symptoms, you may want to talk to your health care provider about medical and surgical options, such as oral contraceptives, cyclic progestin therapy and endometrial ablation. But, there are also a few lifestyle changes that can sometimes make a huge difference in how you feel. Specifically:

Exercise. Whether your idea of exercise is a walk, a run or a Pilates class, there's good evidence suggesting that it may reduce the number and severity of your hot flashes. In one study, Swedish researchers evaluated 793 postmenopausal women on their exercise habits and prevalence of hot flashes. Only 5 percent of highly physically active women said they experienced severe hot flashes, compared to 14 to 16 percent of women who got little or no weekly exercise. One possible reason for the difference, researchers theorized, is that regular physical exercise may affect brain chemicals that regulate body temperature.

Quit smoking. It makes intuitive sense that lighting up a cigarette won't cool your hot flashes. And research proves it. A study published in 2003 found that smokers were nearly twice as likely to have moderate or severe hot flashes as those who never smoked and more than twice as likely to have daily hot flashes as nonsmokers. The more the women smoked, the more they flashed. So talk to your health care professional today about ways to quit.

Lose weight. It's no secret that overweight people suffer from the heat more, whether or not they're having hot flashes. But studies also find that women who are obese are more likely to have frequent and severe hot flashes than women with a healthy weight. Although it gets harder to lose weight in middle-age, talk to your health care professional about options. A healthy diet coupled with moderate daily exercise can make a world of difference.

Dress for the "heat." If you're having hot flashes, the "weather" inside or outside can be as unpredictable as the stock market. So dress for every contingency by dressing in layers. For instance, start with a silk camisole, then a short-sleeved blouse, then a light blazer. When a flash hits, peel off a layer; as you cool down, put it back on. And stick with natural materials that breathe, such as cotton and silk.

Create a cool environment. If possible, keep the temperature on the cool side (try to take control of the thermostat in your office and home) and buy a small fan for your desk.

Practice stress reduction techniques. Deep breathing, mindful meditation and visualization can help you relax and either avoid a hot flash or render it less intense. Such efforts can also help combat insomnia, whether it occurs as you're trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night.

Turn your bedroom into a perimenopausal haven. Whether you're having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or are waking up too early, there are numerous steps you can take to get a good night's sleep.

  • Nix the caffeine. It interferes with sleep and makes you jittery. Unfortunately, that also goes for the caffeine in chocolate.
  • Cool off your room. Install an overhead fan or buy a standing fan and aim it right at the bed. Open a window or lower the air conditioner. If your partner is too cold, toss him or her an extra blanket.
  • Go natural. Either sleep in the nude, with just a thin sheet covering you, or stick to light, all-cotton or all-silk sleep clothes.
  • And remember, even if you are taking medication to manage your perimenopausal symptoms, incorporating these lifestyle changes may make the medication more effective
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