It’s been called the change of life, the beginning of the end, a renewal time, the start of the next half of your life. However you think of menopause, there are plenty of rumors afloat about this female milestone. Here are ten things you should know:
**1. **You no longer need birth control once menopause is complete, but you most certainly need to use birth control until you have missed your menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months. It is not unusual for women to miss several menstrual cycles only to have a period and then have to start counting missed cycles again. You can get pregnant during these “start and stop” moments, so only give up birth control after the 12th consecutive missed cycle.
**2. **Not all women get hot flashes as they move into their menopausal stage. Most women will experience some hot flashes (and sweats), particularly at night. Experiencing hot flashes can continue up until 5 years post menopause.
**3. **Weight gain around your mid-section is typical and is often due to the fact that you may need to adjust your daily total calories downward in response to a slightly slower metabolic rate (and loss of muscle mass).
**4. **You may experience vulvar and vaginal atrophy (vaginal shrinking and narrowing) which can result in dryness and painful intercourse. Talk to your gynecologist about treatment options.
**5. **Hormone therapy is currently considered a medical treatment option only for severe, unrelenting hot flashes, due to the increased risk of breast cancer associated with HT. Other menopause symptoms need to be addressed with other treatment options. A maximum of 2 years of HT is currently considered the “safest time frame” for hormone use.
**6. **Sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, forgetfulness, irritability are common complaints made by women who have experienced menopause.
**7. **If you prefer to try therapies other than HT for hot flashes, they can include: vitamin B complex, vitamin E, ibuprofen, Catapres,birth control pills, certain anti-depressants, Neurontin (anti-seizure medication). Some women do respond to black cohosh, adding soy foods to their diet, using evening primrose oil, or combining some of these treatments.
**8. **Osteoporosis risk increases after menopause. If you haven’t already, you should get a baseline bone density measurement. A DEXA is the most accurate test.
**9. **Heart disease risk increases after menopause due to the decrease of estrogen levels.
**10. **A small subset of women can experience a voice change after menopause though most do not. Facial hair can increase.
Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”