Anyone who’s suffered through a hot flash knows it’s easy to find a friend to commiserate, but finding a doctor to help isn’t always as simple. In a recent survey of medical residents from 20 programs, including gynecology, only seven percent said they felt prepared to manage women in menopause. That means even OB-GYNs may not know that symptoms like fatigue and an irregular heartbeat can be related to menopause!
Take depression, for example: Risk doubles in menopause. “Sometimes medication is the best approach, but many doctors don’t evaluate their patients for symptoms, like hot flashes, that may contribute to low mood,” says Hadine Joffe, MD, of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But mild depression often improves with lifestyle changes to address those underlying factors, she adds.
Here’s how to manage other often misinterpreted menopause symptoms.
Research shows a link between estrogen fluctuations and a weakening of the otoconia (the tiny organ in the inner ear that controls balance). That explains why twice as many women experience vertigo in their 40s than in their 30s. The solution? Ginkgo biloba. In one study, taking 240 mg. daily improved balance and stability by 60 percent in three months. Study author Robert Hoerr, MD, explains that gingko facilitates blood flow to the inner ear and brain — an effect that reduces dizziness. For best results, look for a product that says it contains “extract standardized to 24 percent,” like Nature’s Way Ginkgold Capsules (Buy on Amazon, $26.30).
Symptom: Dry Mouth
Estrogen flux can disrupt hormones that regulate saliva, leading to dry mouth for up to 45 percent of women in menopause, according to one study. “I see many peri- and postmenopausal patients experiencing dry mouth,” confirms Emily Dennison, DDS. “In some cases, I see rapid dental decay at the gumline,” since saliva is needed to rinse bad bacteria away. The fix: Reach for xylitol-containing gum or hard candies like Zellie’s Spearmint Xylitol Gum (Buy at Walmart, $19.05). The natural sugar substitute can boost saliva flow and reduce the risk of tooth decay by 59 percent. Aim to increase your intake gradually, as large amounts of xylitol can cause stomach upset.
Women with moderate anxiety are nearly three times more likely to report hot flashes. “Whether hot flashes trigger anxiety or the other way around is an ongoing debate, but finding ways to manage both can help,” says ob-gyn Sara Gottfried, MD, author of Brain Body Diet (Buy on Amazon, $9.99). Numerous studies have shown that paced breathing lowers anxiety, and a Mayo Clinic study found it also slashed hot flash frequency by 52 percent. To do: Twice a day for 20 minutes, inhale deeply through your nose for five seconds. Hold the breath for 10 seconds. Exhale for five seconds. “I do this first thing in the morning and, when time is short, while driving.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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