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A journey of brain fogs and hot flashes

  • Story Highlights
  • No two women experience menopause exactly the same way
  • Some believe estrogen loss is reason for some memory loss and confusion
  • Expert: See if yoga, or exercise or some herbal remedies work
  • Expert: While symptoms might be irksome, they are usually natural
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By Linda Saether
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- As a mature woman -- at least chronologically -- I don't spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about menopause.

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That rite of womanhood doesn't seem to carry the emotional currents of some of the other stages of female growth, like the early puberty angst of wondering whether your chest will ever grow, or the impending ticking of our biological clock winding down in our late 30s.

While all women will experience menopause, no two women will experience it exactly in the same way. More than a rite of passage, it's more akin to a journey and a potentially bumpy one at that.

While most women prepare themselves for hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain -- we may also have to deal with a condition some are labeling "brain fog."

This brainy weather condition is fairly common, says Dr. Sujatha Reddy, an Atlanta, Georgia-based gynecologist. Video See why some women experience brain fog when going through menopause. »

"Most of my patients who are coming in for menopausal issues ask about lack of memory, or confusion, or difficulty concentrating. I think those are real things that happen in menopause."

According to the National Institutes for Health most women will go through menopause sometime between the ages of 40 to 55.

Women are officially going through menopause when they have gone without a period for one year.

"Every woman is born with as many eggs in your ovaries as you're going to have for the rest of your life. In your adolescence, your eggs wake up and start making estrogen. In your 50s, these eggs sort of have lived their life span, and now start to essentially die off and stop producing estrogen, you stop ovulating, and the ovaries shut down and essentially, go to sleep."

OK. Got it. Ovarian slumber.

That's a lot more peaceful-sounding than the discomfort of hot flashing- brain fogging moods swinging menopausing.

Apparently, things under the skin are calmer than those above the surface when it comes to "the change." The culprit seems to be the estrogen levels.

The trigger seems to be the estrogen levels: With the demise of the hormone making factory it's almost as if our bodies are dealing with wacky thermostats that keep trying to readjust (summer, winter, winter summer, happy, sad, sad, happy). No wonder we've got brain fog.

While some people believe the estrogen loss is part of the reason for some memory loss and confusion, others aren't so sure.

Dr. Nadine Kaslow, professor and chief psychologist at Atlanta's Grady Hospital, says, "No doubt that some women feel they are dealing with a mental fog, no debate there. However there is no research to support this."

And while researchers continue looking into the estrogen-brain link, health care providers say the brain dysfunction that seems to be coupled with menopause might have simpler answers.

"A lot of times, people can't remember the exact word they're looking for, perhaps they have trouble concentrating, they can't pay attention to the same task as much as they used to. A lot of that could stem from some of the sleep irregularities that come with menopause.If you add hot flashes and night sweats to that, maybe where you used to be able to function on six hours of sleep, you're only getting four, your concentration and your ability to focus is definitely going to be affected," Dr. Reddy said.

So what's a menopausal woman to do?

First this is not something to treat lightly, so make sure you confide in your health care provider about all the unfamiliar responses going on in your body while going through menopause.

Then you can assess which treatment option is best for you.

Years ago, popping a hormone pill was the ready response to these menopausal biproducts, but today's doctors favor a more holistic approach.

"See if yoga, or exercise or some herbal remedies work. I also encourage women to try learning new things, to stimulate their brains," Dr. Kaslow suggests.

She also tells women to treat the other things that are going on, for example she says, "if you are depressed treat the depression."

The same applies for mood swings, hot flashes and weight gain.

While the symptoms of menopause might be irksome, the fact of the matter is that what your body is going through is completely natural.

This change thing is supposed to happen so don't think of yourself as being sick, think of it as, well evolving.

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The good news is that your body will eventually settle down and get this new low estrogen setting set straight -- so some of those pesky growing pains will go away with time.

The bad news unfortunately, as Dr. Kaslow points out, is "some women may have a very long pre-menopausal period coupled with a drawn out menopause period and by the time their symptoms are gone they are elderly women and have a whole new set of health issue to deal with at that point." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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