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Common Menopause Symptoms and How to Treat Them

Hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety and more can interfere with day-to-day life, AARP research shows. But there’s a growing list of treatments that can bring relief  

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Hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. These are the top three symptoms in a long and varied list that women can experience when going through menopause, according to new research from AARP. Other chief complaints include fatigue, weight gain and insomnia — and it’s not uncommon for women to experience more than one of these effects.

In fact, a new survey from AARP finds that around 90 percent of women age 35-plus experience menopausal symptoms, some of which can be debilitating and interfere with work and other day-to-day activities. About 40 percent of women endure five to nine symptoms.  

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It’s no wonder, then, that women are trying a variety of treatments to bring some relief. Nearly half of women surveyed in AARP’s research say they have reached for supplements to help manage their symptoms. Others have made changes to their diet and exercise routines; some have tried prescription medications.

But doctors say treating menopause symptoms doesn’t need to be a guessing game that you have to play by yourself. The stigma is fading, research is evolving, and new therapies are giving women more options.

“Menopause is definitely having its moment, and people are talking about it,” says Rajita Patil, M.D., director of the Comprehensive Menopause Program at University of California, Los Angeles.

14 Common Menopause Symptoms

Nine in 10 women report menopause symptoms, which can be wide-ranging. Here are the most common, according to new research from AARP:

  1. Hot flashes
  2. Night sweats
  3. Mood or emotional swings
  4. Fatigue
  5. Weight gain
  6. Insomnia
  7. Changes in sexual desire
  8. Vaginal dryness
  9. Joint or muscle pain
  10. Forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating
  11. Headaches
  12. Heavy bleeding or irregular periods
  13. Urinary issues
  14. Painful sex

Treatments for menopause

There’s not one treatment that’s right for every woman, doctors say. What might work for you depends on your symptoms, your health risks and your personal preferences.

“Everybody comes into menopause with a different genetic profile, with a different health profile, with different lifestyle behaviors and different values,” Patil says. “And so all of these things have to be taken into account.” 

Here are some of the more common evidence-based treatments that doctors say can help many women.

Hormone replacement therapy. “The pendulum has shifted” when it comes to treating symptoms of menopause with hormone therapy, which can help manage common menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, says Susan Loeb-Zeitlin, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. The once widespread practice of prescribing hormone therapy came to a near halt in the early 2000s when a study found an increased risk for heart disease and breast cancer among women taking hormones. 

But the research has evolved, Loeb-Zeitlin says. “People are starting to understand that for a carefully selected person, there are a lot of benefits.” For example, women in their 40s and 50s who are not at heightened risk for breast cancer or heart disease may benefit.

“It definitely should be brought up as an option for patients who are candidates for it,” Patil says. “But there are a lot of other options out there.”

New hot flash medications. Last spring, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first-of-its-kind treatment for hot flashes. The pill, Veozah (fezolinetant), targets the part of the brain that helps regulate a person’s body temperature. (Changes in estrogen levels during menopause affect this area of the brain, causing hot flashes.)

Loeb-Zeitlin says so far the medication seems to be “really effective.” And it’s been a great option for many women who are not good candidates for hormone therapy, says Wen Shen, M.D., codirector of the Women’s Wellness & Healthy Aging Program and associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “So, for a lot of my patients, it’s been a game changer.”

The issue, doctors say, is that a lot of insurance companies aren’t covering it yet, though Shen points out that the drugmaker does offer a coupon that can help offset out-of-pocket costs. 

There could be more medications like this in the near future. Pharmaceutical company Bayer recently announced its nonhormone drug candidate that is similar to Veozah eased hot flashes and improved sleep in clinical trial participants. Stay tuned.


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Video: How to Tame a Hot Flash

Other nonhormonal medications. Beyond this new class of hot-flash medications, there are other nonhormonal medications that can help with menopause symptoms. Paroxetine, an antidepressant that belongs to a class of medications known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), is FDA-approved for the treatment of hot flashes.  

“It can lessen hot flashes, help some of the mood changes that happen with menopause, and even can help women sleep better,” Loeb-Zeitlin says. “And so that’s a great option for women who either can’t or won’t use hormone therapy.”

Doctors also sometimes prescribe the antiseizure medication gabapentin and the overactive bladder medication oxybutynin to help ease hot flash symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Another nonhormonal treatment that’s increasingly being embraced by doctors and patients is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common type of talk therapy. Several studies, including gold-standard randomized controlled trials, have demonstrated its effectiveness across a range of common symptoms, and it’s a recommended form of nonhormone treatment from the North American Menopause Society.  

“This is very powerful,” Patil says. “It’s been shown to significantly reduce hot flashes, improve sleep, mood and quality of life during the menopause transition.”

About 8 percent of women surveyed by AARP report trying psychological or psychiatric therapy to help with their symptoms. “I think it’s underutilized but can be utilized more in the health care system if it’s available to patients,” Patil says.

What about lifestyle changes?

AARP’s research finds that 29 percent of women surveyed changed their diet to help with menopause symptoms and 28 percent started or changed their exercise routines. Eighteen percent stopped or changed their smoking or drinking behaviors.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, these steps can help with sleep troubles, brain fog, mood changes and more.

“Diet, exercise, stress management are all critical parts of a treatment plan for women going through menopause transition,” Loeb-Zeitlin says.

Be mindful of marketing claims

The growing list of effective treatment options is no doubt beneficial for women. But with menopause having its “moment,” doctors say patients need to be more cautious than ever.

Social media is filled with posts promoting products — gummies, pills, powders and more — that promise to relieve menopausal symptoms.

“Menopause treatment is such big business right now,” Shen says. “And there are a lot of unethical players out there” targeting women who are having “horrific symptoms.”

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Shen says to keep in mind that supplements are not approved by the FDA — neither are the claims on their bottles. “Women will spend a lot of money to buy them only to find that they don’t work,” she says.

What’s more, supplements, even common ones, can cause side effects and can interact with other medications you may be taking, Shen says, so it’s really important to talk to your doctor before trying something new.

Forty-five percent of women surveyed by AARP say they have tried supplements to alleviate their menopause symptoms. AARP’s report finds that women, on average, are spending nearly $150 a year on supplements for menopause. 

Don’t shy away from talking to your doctor

For so long, many women have felt as though they can’t bring up menopause symptoms with their doctors, or that they shouldn’t because it’s just part of getting older.

“Really until now — and still — I think there’s a lot of discomfort with the idea of talking about it and feeling comfortable with asking for help,” Patil says. However, “women are feeling a little bit more relaxed about coming out of the woodwork and asking their doctors,” she says.

Here are some tips for starting the conversation:

  • Ask your doctor if the symptoms you are experiencing are due to menopause or something else, Shen says. For example, hot flashes may be due to a thyroid issue; mood swings could be depression.
  • Don’t let yourself be dismissed, Shen adds. If you find that’s the case, look for another provider, especially one who specializes in treating menopausal women. (The North American Menopause Society has a search function you can use.)
  • Outline all of the symptoms you are experiencing and when they started, Patil says — almost like a diary, so your physician can get a clear picture of what’s happening.
  • Educate yourself on menopause, “but be careful what you choose to read,” Shen says. Misinformation abounds, so be sure to get your information from reliable sources.

“[Patients] should feel empowered to really ask questions,” Patil says. The good news, she adds, is that with more people talking about menopause, “I feel like maybe they won’t be as shy or feel embarrassed or feel like they can’t talk to their doctor about it.”

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