What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the time that marks the absence of a woman’s menstrual cycle for 12 months. This process takes place when the functions of the ovaries cease, which means that you can no longer conceive. However, this transaction does not occur overnight; instead it is a gradual process, and the experience is different for each woman.
Most women go through this process around the age of 51; however, menopause can also occur as early as one’s 30s or as late as one’s 60s. There is no other reliable way of predicting when a woman will experience menopause. The age at which you got your first period also has nothing to do with the age of menopause onset, dispelling a common myth.
Another term that is commonly used is Perimenopause. It refers to the time around the actual menopause period. It is used to describe the transitional period a woman experiences.
What causes Menopause?
Menopause is a natural process that every woman goes through. This process usually happens when there is a reduction in the amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone being produced. Estrogen controls the menstruation process, whereas progesterone helps in preparing the body for a pregnancy. As fertility declines your ovaries then stop producing eggs, and of course you then no longer have periods.
Other causes of Menopause include:
- A hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the uterus. However, a hysterectomy will still leave the ovaries in place, and doesn’t cause immediate menopause. You don’t have periods, but your ovaries still produce the egg. Surgeries in which both the uterus and the ovaries are removed cause immediate menopause, and severe menopause symptoms come with that as well.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapies can induce menopause during or after the treatment. However, this halt in menstruation and fertility isn’t always permanent.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency in which the ovaries are unable to produce the required levels of reproductive hormones. This can be attributable to genetic predisposition or can be caused by autoimmune diseases.
- Down’s syndrome
- Turner’s syndrome
Signs and symptoms of Menopause
It is first important to understand that each woman’s menopause experience is going to be different. Some may experience few or no symptoms, while others may experience both physical and emotional symptoms. The extent and severity of these symptoms tend to vary for each woman.
In some cases, these symptoms may come and go over extended periods, and this too is highly dependent on the individual.
Symptoms of both perimenopause and menopause include
- Irregular periods; your menstrual pattern changes, you either menstruate after every 2 to 3 weeks or sometimes don’t menstruate for months.
- Lower fertility; perimenopause takes place around 3-5 years before menopause. Estrogen levels decrease significantly, reducing the chances of you getting pregnant.
- Dry vagina; you experience dryness, itchiness, discomfort and at times the vagina can become inflamed as well, which makes it painful to have sex.
- Hot flashes, a sudden heat sensation that starts in the upper body and continues downward. The skin becomes red and patchy, sweating profusely is common, and your heart rate might become irregular as well.
- Night sweats. These are basically hot flashes that occur while you sleep, and they cause discomfort and make it difficult to sleep.
- Trouble sleeping. You might find it difficult to fall and stay asleep, and it can also cause insomnia and anxiety as well.
- Urinary problems. Women tend to experience urinary tract infections, such as cystitis, during menopause. Many also need to use the toilet more frequently.
- Emotional changes. Menopause often causes depression, mood swings, and some women experience low libido and sex drive as well.
- Problems concentrating and short-term memory loss are both symptoms of menopause
- Other menopause symptoms include hair loss, breast shrinkage, and obesity, among others.
Complications caused by Menopause
Women experiencing menopause can also undergo some severe complications. These include:
- Cardiovascular diseases
Reduced estrogen levels can increase one’s chances of ending up with heart diseases such as heart attack, stroke, etc.
Women often lose bone density during the first few years after experiencing menopause. Low bone density increases the risks of developing osteoporosis
- Urinary incontinence
Menopause causes the vaginal and urethra tissues to lose their elasticity. This results in frequent, and sudden overwhelming urges to urinate, which can be followed by involuntary loss of urine as well. You may also involuntarily urinate after coughing, sneezing, laughing, etc.
- Breast cancer
Women tend to face a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause.
Although menopause cannot be treated, there are different ways you can reduce or mitigate its symptoms. These include:
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
You can supplement your estrogen and progestin levels through a patch on the skin. The patch releases these hormones into the body. Although HRT is extremely effective for keeping these symptoms at bay, it does have the potential for severe adverse side effects as well. Ask your doctor about the risks before making any decision.
Medications for vaginal symptoms are part of the non-hormonal therapy. If you cannot take hormones, then you can take medications for vaginal dryness. There are drugs for treating vaginal symptoms, and typically these drugs have low amounts of estrogen in them. These medications can be found in the form of creams, tablets, and rings to be placed in the vagina.
Low-dose antidepressants are also used to decrease hot flashes, and there are other drugs available that are specifically for hot flashes (Neurontin).
Yoga and meditation along with other relaxation methods reduce stress caused by menopause
Home remedies that include plant-based estrogen such as black cohosh can also help in treating hot flashes
To reduce the symptoms of menopause, it is advisable to make some changes in your daily lifestyle. You should get rid of or reduce the frequency of bad habits like:
- Eating overly spicy foods
- Mayo Clinic – Cystitis
- Mayo Clinic – Heart disease