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Women's Health Screening

Symptoms of PMS
Mood changes— nervousness, moodiness, irritability, anger, anxiety, depression, edginess
Physical feelings— sweet or salty cravings, hunger, headaches, feeling tired
Body changes— bloating and water retention; weight gain; swollen, tender, and sore breasts
Depressive symptoms— sleep problems, memory loss, confusion, fluctuating emotions, tears, suicidal thoughts

PMS with severe mood symptoms is medically classified and treated as premenstrual dysthymic disorder (PMDD). This is a mood disorder that disrupts work and other life activities related to the premenstrual part of the menstrual cycle. Medications have been approved for the treatment of PMDD and are typically taken for the last two weeks of the month of your cycle. If you are suffering from premenstrual symptoms that interfere with relationships, work, or athletic schedule, discuss possible treatment with your doctor.

Menopause
Every woman's body and mind respond differently to menopause. Occurring usually between the ages of 50 and 55, menopause has a bad reputation for causing unpleasant side effects such as hot flashes, moodiness, memorydisturbance, and vaginal dryness. Menopause is not a disease, but rather simply a natural process that occurs as the amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body changes, sometimes causing strange sensations. For those who have trouble with the uncomfortable side effects of menopause, medications can be helpful. Until recently, the most commonly prescribed medication was hormone replacement therapy (HRT), usually a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Treatment with HRT is less frequently prescribed after the 2002 Women's Health Initiative study found HRT to slightly increase risk of breast cancer in some women if taken for more than five years. Instead, lower doses are prescribed for a few years, or medications used to treat mood disorders (including Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac) are also effective. Natural treatments for symptoms of menopause can also be helpful and include soy and black cohosh.

After menopause, your risk of heart disease goes up slightly. Speak with your doctor if you have any other health risks of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, had a mother or daughter with heart disease, or have diabetes. It might be worth it for you to take a "statin" medication to prevent heart disease. Also, your risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause; this risk can be established with a bone density test.

There are no limitations to exercise before, during, or after menopause. In fact, exercise can help manage and lessen uncomfortable symptoms experienced before and during menopause. Exercise can also lower the risks of health problems that can occur after menopause: Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise prevents cardiovascular disease, and weight-bearing exercise (walking, jogging, weight lifting) prevents osteoporosis. Skill sports involving balance challenges such as golf and tennis help maintain posture, motion, flexibility, and balance and prevent joint stiffness, weakness, and falls.

Ideally, all your body systems are as healthy as they can possibly be. Occasional setbacks or flare-ups of problems are part of life, but if they do not take you out of exercise for more than one week, they should be easy to recover from. When you experience serious illness or surgeries that require more than one week of rest, recovery can sometimes take longer than the illness. Anesthesia can also contribute to feeling tired and weak for anywhere from several days to several weeks. If you are weak or limited by illness, try basic yoga moves, light weight lifting exercises, or toning exercises or classes. Advance to walking a few times a week, then add cycling or swimming. Gradually, you should be able to return to your previous level of activity.

Do not hesitate to see a doctor if you have concerns about unusual symptoms or feel unhealthy. Make an appointment, as this is the best way to get correct and appropriate answers to your questions. The earlier a problem is diagnosed and treated, the earlier it will be resolved and the more likely it will be fully healed. If you do not feel comfortable speaking with your doctor, find another one.

Your exercise program should make you feel stronger and healthier. Your nutrition program should provide you with fuel for life and exercise. By taking care of yourself, you will need no (or fewer) medications and avoid illness and injury. Each day will feel great. Staying active will keep you looking and feeling young and healthy. Remember, your health is your greatest resource.

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From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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