I’ve been going through a stop-start-stop-start introduction to menopause for around two years now. The current official definition of menopause is cessation of menstruation for 18 months. My periods have stopped for 3-6 months at a time about 4 times now. Just when I start thinking “maybe this is really it” I’ll have another period and have to reset the counter. This particular go round is into month 3…so we’ll see what happens next.
I have had a great deal of hesitation about fighting the symptoms of menopause with drugs. After all, it’s a natural, normal part of living and getting older. And I don’t suffer that badly. My main complaint is hot flashes. I actually wouldn’t be bothering to write this post at all if it wasn’t for the strange experience of having a hot flash.
I know these are different for everyone, but here is what happens to me. I start to get a sensation of heat. It rises from somewhere inside me. It’s very different from going “whew it’s hot in here”. Instead I’m going, “it’s hot in ME”! As the sensation develops I have a variety of reactions. Sometimes if I’m not busy doing something else, I stop and observe the sensation. There is a bit of a “rush” involved which is probably the heated feeling moving through my body. Sometimes I break out in a sweat, but not always. Occasionally I have a sudden attack of anxiety along with the hot flash. I leap out of bed, or once, ran out of the room I was in until I gathered my senses and reminded myself that the sensation was internal and I couldn’t escape it by moving somewhere else.
I think I would simply live with this except for the effect it has on my sleep patterns. As we get older its normal for our sleep to get interrupted more than it used to. I’m a very light sleeper to begin with but hot flashes have been waking me up 2-4 times a night. The strange thing is, I will be woken by a hot flash, but once it passes I go right back to sleep. I also don’t usually feel tired during the day, so I must be getting enough rest. But it still can’t be healthy to have my sleep interrupted so consistently.
The other thing, and it’s a big thing, that concerns me about menopause is osteoporosis. To say it runs in my family is an understatement. My mother broke her hip. My father broke his hip. My aunt (my mother’s sister) broke her hip, and my grandmother broke her hip, twice. I started getting bone density exams in my mid-forties, and bone loss started showing up soon thereafter.
Science has gone through rather recent developments while discovering what can be done about bone loss and how to prevent it. When I started getting the bone density exams, around ten years ago, there was Fosomax and drugs like that. They are supposed to prevent bone loss and even reverse it, but you have to be careful. Taken incorrectly these drugs can cause severe esophageal problems. I’ve been taking some sort of bone loss medication for three or four years now. It helps, but only to a point. My bone loss has definitely slowed down, and even stopped in some areas of my body, but it has not reversed.
Several years ago, doctors started suggesting that I take medications for hypothyroidism, or low thyroid production. The dosage I take has gradually risen, as my thyroid has gotten more sluggish, and doctors have gotten more aggressive in the use of this medication. The thing I didn’t understand until the doc I went to in Hong Kong took the time to explain it to me is that a sluggish thyroid affects bone density. Once I understood that I got more enthusiastic about taking this medication. I’ve recently changed to a different type of thyroid med called Amour, that is supposed to be more efficient. We shall see.
The other thing doctors are practically gaga about nowadays is vitamin D. In Hong Kong the cloudy skies and pollution ensured that much of the population was vitamin D deficient. Wearing sunscreen may help protect us against skin cancer, but it also filters out the vitamin D. There is an increasing body of evidence that vitamin D deficiency affects bones in more ways than just preventing rickets in children. So my doctors started me on higher and higher doses of this vitamin. My latest doc actually wants me to go off of the bone-density meds and try very high doses of vitamin D instead. I’m willing to do this for the 6-9 months until my next bone density test. If it doesn’t work I’ll go back on the bone density meds.
I feel kind of like the science is evolving as I age! I’m trying a bio-identical hormone cream for the hot flashes. I’m still having the flashes, but it’s only been a couple of weeks so I need to be patient. I think the cream might be giving me strange dreams though! I’m very sensitive to male and female hormones and notice changes fairly readily from their application, so I’m cautious. There’s no point in solving one problem only to create another!
Overall I am very lucky health-wise. In spite of some of the serious problems some of my relatives have experienced I’m in really good shape for a lady in her mid-to-late fifties. I’m fit, happy, on an even keel, and the potential health problems I do have are being treated (and I have the insurance to treat them).
So all-in-all I’m not complaining. I’d like the hot flashes to go away, but they won’t kill me, at least in the short run. In the long run…well pick your poison, you know? :)