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Navigating Life After Surgical Menopause: What To Know & How To Prepare

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Life after surgically-induced menopause — like life after natural menopause — will vary based on symptoms: which symptoms you experience, how long they last, and how severe they are. However, there are certain considerations unique to the surgical menopause experience which will impact how you navigate the ins and outs of this wildly unpredictable time and maintain a high quality of life, such as:

  • Age: If you’re younger, you may be dealing with symptoms far earlier than friends who aren’t yet in perimenopause or just beginning the experience. This can be incredibly isolating, which is why many women turn to support groups like The Surmeno Connection.
  • Potential loss of fertility: The emotional impacts associated with the potential loss of fertility due to surgery should not be ignored.
  • Navigating cancer along with menopause symptoms: The triple whammy of navigating the physical and emotional effects of your condition (whether it be cancer, a BRCA-positive genetic test, or a benign condition such as severe endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or fibroids) PLUS recovering from surgery and any potential side effects PLUS now…surprise!…dealing with hot flushes/night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, low libido, vaginal dryness, and more can feel hugely overwhelming.

A quick refresher on the surgeries associated with menopause

  • Hysterectomy: The surgical removal of the uterus, which may be needed to treat certain cancers (especially endometrial/uterine, advanced cervical, or ovarian cancer) as well as certain benign conditions like fibroids and endometriosis. Remember, there’s more than one type of hysterectomy: a total hysterectomy means that the cervix and uterus were both removed and a partial hysterectomy means that the uterus was removed but the cervix was left intact.
  • Oophorectomy: The surgical removal of the ovary (a bilateral oophorectomy is the removal of both ovaries), which may be needed to treat uterine — especially endometrial, ovarian, or advanced cervical — cancer. Surgical removal of BOTH ovaries is what is defined as surgical menopause. Even women with one ovary can still ovulate and can still enter menopause naturally.
  • Salpingectomy: The surgical removal of the fallopian tubes (one or both), the tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus.

How to navigate life after surgical menopause

Regardless of how one goes through menopause (natural menopause at an average age of 51, premature menopause before the age of 40, or early menopause before the age of 45), it’s important to prioritize our health and wellness — something that’s especially true after induced menopause because of the associated higher risks of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cognitive impairment, loss of libido, and more.

Not every woman who has surgery for cancer will be eligible for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — it depends on whether the cancer was estrogen-driven or not — which means that focusing on nutrition, exercise, quality sleep, weight management, and stress management will be key levers in your wellness toolbox.

1. Nutrition

For specific symptom relief

There are select foods you may want to consider proactively adding to address specific symptoms, including:

  • For hot flashes/hot flushes & night sweats: soy, flaxseed, legumes (and yes, moderate amounts of soy is safe for breast cancer survivors to eat)
  • For brain fog: dark leafy greens, berries, raw cacao, caviar, extra virgin olive oil/flaxseed oil
  • For bloating: ginger

Calcium, calcium, calcium!

Calcium is incredibly important during and post-menopause to support healthy bones, and it’s best to get it from dietary sources whenever possible — the best sources are sardines, dairy (yogurt or cheese), seeds (chia or sesame), and legumes (lentils and beans). Aim for 1200 mg/day, which is higher than what’s recommended pre-menopause. And don’t forget about Vitamin D, which facilitates the absorption of calcium.

A note on alcohol

…and calcium absorption

In order to ensure that our bodies are able to absorb calcium, it’s important to cut down on alcohol, which interferes with the pancreas’ ability to absorb both calcium and vitamin D. As we know, alcohol also affects the liver, which is instrumental in activating our stores of vitamin D to facilitate calcium absorption. Any way you look at it, alcohol’s not great for our bones, especially when consumption exceeds 2-3 ounces (or drinks) every day.

…and hot flashes

Alcohol, especially red wine, is a particularly powerful trigger of hot flashes and night sweats, one of the top surgical menopause symptoms. Consider trying a non-alcoholic beverage in lieu of a cocktail when you can, and if you’re going to drink, white or low-sugar wines, or another drink with less sugar.

A note on the Mediterranean diet

While there isn’t one perfect diet for all of us, the Mediterranean diet has rightly earned a lot of hype. It’s low in saturated fats and animal proteins, rich in antioxidants and fiber, anti-inflammatory, and low-carb. And because it kicks most refined and concentrated sugars to the curb and focuses instead on non-starchy veggies, beans, fruits, and whole grains, it’s considered a “low-glycemic” diet — meaning it won’t dramatically spike our blood sugar.

For a primer on what’s included, along with other nutrition tips and science, refer to our full guide to nutrition during the menopause transition.

Interested in learning more about supplements to include as part of your daily routine? Learn what to look for and what the research says about the efficacy of certain supplements for postmenopausal women.

2. Exercise

Mix in aerobic exercises for cardiovascular health (since postmenopausal women are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, aka heart disease), strength training to maintain muscle mass, and resistance training to help support healthy bone density.

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3. Stress management

Chronic stress, like sleep, has far-reaching effects on our physical and mental health. It’s been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular events as well as high blood pressure (which can pose a high risk for heart attack and stroke).

Here are some tips to help keep stress at bay:

Cultivate a meditation practice
Over time, you’ll condition yourself to be more present while letting thoughts come and go. We recommend guided meditations on apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer, and Calm. Meditation not your thing? Try Heartmath, a form of biofeedback that can help with anxiety management. It focuses on breathing and heart rate, two physiologic functions that can contribute to that anxious feeling.

Cultivate a gratitude and/or journaling practice
Studies have linked both practices to decreased anxiety, and they can also help improve general feelings of well-being and facilitate mindfulness. Here are some great tips on how to start a gratitude practice.

Get high-quality sleep
Sleep disruptions affect neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels which, in turn, impair thinking and emotional regulation. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize those Zzzzsss. Here’s a handy guide with behavioral, nutritional, and supplemental solutions.

Prioritize downtime with family and friends
While we may be conditioned with a “go-go-go” mentality, it’s important to step back and prioritize rest and downtime with loved ones (pencil it into your calendar!). After all, human beings are social creatures, and we derive comfort from connection.

Don’t forget about “me” time
Call it what you want — self care, alone time, R&R — but you deserve it. There’s nothing “selfish” about taking time for yourself, especially when it supports your mental health and overall wellness.

READ MORE: 

How Long Do Surgically-Induced Menopause Symptoms Last?

A Hysterectomy Expert on What to Know about Surgical Menopause

Surgical Menopause Symptoms: What To Expect