Strategies for Managing Common Women's Health Issues

Strategies for Managing Common Women's Health Issues

Strategies for Managing Common Women's Health Issues 

Women go through various biological stages and changes throughout their lives. Some of these bring unpleasant symptoms that can disrupt day-to-day life. Learning about these health issues and their available treatments can help women prepare and manage them. This blog post discusses practical strategies for alleviating symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. 

Understanding Premenstrual Syndrome 

PMS refers to physical and emotional symptoms that occur within one to two weeks before menstruation starts[1][2]. It affects up to 80% of menstruating women[1]. PMS symptoms may include[1]

  • Bloating 
  • Breast tenderness 
  • Acne breakouts 
  • Fatigue 
  • Irritability or mood changes 
  • Anxiety 
  • Food cravings 
  • Trouble sleeping 

While the exact causes are unclear, fluctuating hormones likely play a role. The changes in estrogen and progesterone before your period can affect neurotransmitters in the brain and other body systems. Stress and genetics may also contribute. 

Tracking your symptoms for a few months can help you identify patterns and share them with your doctor. Keeping a symptom diary noting the severity of symptoms on different days can uncover consistencies. 

PMS symptoms range from mild to severe. When they interfere with work, relationships, or other aspects of life, a diagnosis called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) may fit. This affects up to 8% percent of menstruating women[1][2]

Lifestyle Adjustments for PMS Relief 

Many women can reduce PMS symptoms with home remedies and lifestyle changes[2]:

Improve Your Diet 

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A balanced diet provides vitamins/minerals that may ease symptoms. 
  • Reduce salt, sugar, and saturated fat intake. Limiting processed foods in favor of fresh, whole ones can help control bloating. 
  • Eat small, frequent meals. Keeping blood sugar stable may curb mood swings. 
  • Increase calcium and vitamin D intake. About 1000-1,200mg of calcium daily helps, ramp up vitamin D for absorption[3]
  • Try supplements like omega-3s/fish oil, magnesium, vitamin B6, and evening primrose oil. Studies show some benefits for cramps, breast pain, and irritability. Check with a doctor first regarding proper amounts and drug interactions. 

Exercise Regularly 

  • Aim for 30 minutes daily of light-to-moderate activity like walking, yoga, or swimming. Exercising helps relieve cramps, anxiety, and fatigue and improves sleep[2]

Prioritize Sleep 

  • Get at least 7-9 hours nightly. Fatigue worsens many PMS symptoms, and restful sleep provides relief[2]
  • Improve sleep habits like limiting electronics before bed, using blackout curtains, etc[2]. Manage Stress Levels 
  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, massage, etc. Stress worsens PMS, and relaxing helps symptoms. 
  • Make time for hobbies, and social activities. Taking small breaks reduces overall stress. 

Avoid Triggers 

  • Cut back on caffeine, alcohol, and smoking. All these ramp up anxiety, fatigue, and poor sleep connected to PMS. 

While the above strategies help many women, others need further treatment for significant PMS/PMDD symptoms[2]

Medical and Alternative Treatments 

If self-care strategies don't relieve PMS/PMDD symptoms enough, consult a doctor or women’s health nurse practitioner about additional options.

Medications 

Birth control pills that contain estrogen/progesterone or progesterone alone can stabilize hormones and lessen symptoms like pain or emotional changes[4][5]

Antidepressants like Zoloft and Prozac are commonly prescribed for PMDD, typically taken just before your period starts. These boost neurotransmitters that improve mood[6]

Anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax may ease extreme irritability, tension, or restlessness related to PMS. These drugs carry addiction risks and require close medical supervision[6]

For pain relief, over-the-counter options like ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen can help with minor cramping. Prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are an option for more severe pain[6]

Supplements and Herbal Remedies 

Chasteberry/Vitex capsules or tinctures help some and work similarly to birth control pills. Studies show it can reduce PMS mood changes, breast pain, bloating, and more[7]

The herb Ginkgo biloba may also stabilize hormones and is often used for PMS headaches, fatigue, or poor concentration. 

Calcium, vitamin B6, and magnesium supplements have demonstrated effectiveness for PMS symptoms in clinical research[7]

Evening primrose oil providing the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) may minimize breast pain, cramps, and irritability[7]

When using herbal products, inform your doctor regarding possible medication interactions.

Alternative Therapies 

Acupuncture shows promising results. Getting acupuncture about twice a week before periods may prevent PMS or make it less severe[7]

Reflexology applies pressure to hands and feet connecting to organs like the uterus and ovaries. It may reduce pain, bloating, cramps, and emotional upset of PMS[7]

Mind-body therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness teach coping strategies for stress, anxiety, depression, and more related to PMS[7]. Relaxation techniques are often included. 

Regular massage enhances blood flow and lowers stress chemicals like cortisol and prolactin that contribute to PMS breast pain and cramps[7].

Alternative options should be used cautiously and incorporated into a broader symptom management plan. Track your response to determine effectiveness. 

Navigating Perimenopause and Menopause 

As women age, they enter perimenopause, signaling the reproductive transition to menopause which officially occurs 12 months after the final menstrual period. 

Perimenopause onset happens around the mid-40s, lasting up to a decade until menopause. It brings shifting reproductive hormone levels leading to fluctuating menstrual cycles and possible pregnancy, plus the start of menopause symptoms[8][9]. 

Menopause symptoms arise from declining estrogen— hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and irritation, trouble sleeping, urinary changes, reduced sex drive, etc. Emotional changes like mood swings, anxiety, or irritability commonly happen too[8][9]. 

Let’s discuss tips to alleviate these symptoms through lifestyle measures first then medical treatments if needed. 

Lifestyle Remedies for Menopause Difficulties

Here are some practical solutions to try at home first[10][11][12]

Keep Cool 

  • Dress in breathable, layered, lightweight clothing 
  • Carry a portable fan when out 
  • Run cool water over pulse points 
  • Install ceiling fans, open windows to circulate air 
  • Keep ice packs or cooling scarves available 
  • Soak feet in cold water 

Support Sleep 

  • Lower room temperature at bedtime 
  • Use breathable cotton sheets 
  • Take warm baths before bedtime 
  • Try massage, meditative music before bed 
  • Avoid electronics/stimulants before bedtime 

Stay Active 

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily to reduce hot flashes, mood issues
  • Try walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates
  • Strength training builds bone density which declines during menopause
Adjust Diet 
  • Eat soy, legumes, flax, fruits, vegetables for phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen 
  • Ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D intake 
  • Try supplements like black cohosh, red clover, etc. after discussing safety with doctors

Consider Alternative Therapies 

  • Acupuncture may reduce hot flashes 
  • Hypnosis helps manage hot flashes, sleep disruption 
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction helps mood, sleep 
  • Therapeutic massage decreases stress chemicals 

Medical Treatments for Menopausal Symptoms 

If bothersome symptoms continue despite home remedies and healthy lifestyle measures, consult a women’s health provider or menopause specialist about medical relief options. 

Hormone Therapy 

Low-dose estrogen alone (if hysterectomy occurred) or estrogen + progestogen often prescribed to[11][12][13]

  • Treat hot flashes and night sweats 
  • Reduce vaginal dryness and painful sex 
  • Slow bone loss helping prevent osteoporosis 
  • Improve mood 

Potential benefits outweigh risks for many women aged 50-59 especially within 10 years of menopause starting. Use it at the lowest effective dose for the shortest time that meets treatment goals. 

Consider bioidentical hormones which are chemically identical to the hormones women's bodies produce offering fewer side effects. Brand examples are Estrace Cream and Premarin. 

Weigh the pros and cons with your doctor—won’t help all symptoms, carries some health risks like stroke, blood clots, and gallbladder disease, and may worsen mood disorders[11][12][13]

Non-Hormonal Options

Antidepressants like low-dose paroxetine or venlafaxine reduce hot flashes and mood changes[11][12][13]

Gabapentin is an epilepsy drug also effective for hot flash/night sweat relief[11][12][13]

Clonidine lowers blood pressure but is used off-label to manage menopausal hot flashes, sweats, and insomnia[11][12][13]

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps with hot flashes, anxiety, depression, and sexual health. 

Doctors may suggest vaginal estrogen or lubricants/moisturizers for vulvovaginal atrophy treatment improving tissue health and painful intercourse[11][12][13]

Conclusion 

PMS, perimenopause, and menopause encompass biological changes accompanied by troublesome symptoms interfering with the quality of life for many women. Simple lifestyle measures like a healthy diet, stress reduction, adequate sleep, and exercise go a long way. When that fails to suffice, various medical and alternative therapy options exist too. 

Being informed about common women’s health issues empowers patients to understand their bodies better and make appropriate choices during different life stages. Partnering with experienced healthcare providers ensures access to safe, effective relief improving comfort, happiness, and wellbeing. 

References: 

[1] Kwan, Irene, and Joseph Loze Onwude. “Premenstrual syndrome.” BMJ clinical evidence vol. 2015 0806. 25 Aug. 2015 

[2] Health. “Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).” Vic.gov.au, 2018, 
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/premenstrual-syndrome-pms

[3] Shobeiri, Fatemeh et al. “Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind randomized clinical trial.” Obstetrics & gynecology science vol. 60,1 (2017): 100-105. doi:10.5468/ogs.2017.60.1.100 

[4] Ford, Olive et al. “Progesterone for premenstrual syndrome.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 2012,3 CD003415. 14 Mar. 2012, 
doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003415.pub4

[5] “Premenstrual Syndrome Information | Mount Sinai - New York.” Mount Sinai Health System, 2018, www.mountsinai.org/health-library/report/premenstrual-syndrome 

[6] “Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Improves with Lifestyle Changes-Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) - Diagnosis & Treatment - Mayo Clinic.” Mayo Clinic, 2022, 
www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376 787

[7] Canning, S., et al. “Dietary Supplements and Herbal Remedies for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): A Systematic Research Review of the Evidence for Their Efficacy.” Nih.gov, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK), 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK72353/

[8] Delamater, Lara, and Nanette Santoro. “Management of the Perimenopause.” Clinical obstetrics and gynecology vol. 61,3 (2018): 419-432. doi:10.1097/GRF.0000000000000389 

[9] Morgan, Kelly N., Carol A. Derby, and Carey E. Gleason. "Cognitive changes with reproductive aging, perimenopause, and menopause." Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics 45.4 (2018): 751-763. 

[10] Yazdkhasti, Mansoureh et al. “Empowerment and coping strategies in menopause women: a review.” Iranian Red Crescent medical journal vol. 17,3 e18944. 20 Mar. 2015, doi:10.5812/ircmj.18944 

[11] Kass-Annese, Barbara. "Alternative therapies for menopause." Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology 43.1 (2000): 162-183. 

[12] Warnecke, Emma. "What works?: Evidence for lifestyle and nonprescription therapies in menopause." Australian Family Physician 40.5 (2011): 286-289. 

[13] Kaunitz, Andrew M., and JoAnn E. Manson. "Management of menopausal symptoms." Obstetrics and gynecology 126.4 (2015): 859.

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