Menopause is when a woman stops menstruating. A woman may also stop menstruating when she is pregnant or breastfeeding. Before you enter menopause, you will first pass through the perimenopause phase. Perimenopause is the period just before you reach menopause and occurs around your 40s. During this period, a woman may experience:
- Irregular menstrual cycle ( shorter or longer cycle and heavier or lighter menses)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may worsen
- Menses might stop for 1 or few months and then start again
However a true menopause is when she stays for 12 months without menstruating. Menopause occurs between the ages of 45-55. But that does not mean there are no exceptions to the rule. Early menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency can occur at any age. The cause at times may not be clear but in others it may be caused by an underlying medical condition, treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Menopause is caused by low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone which are normally responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle. This decrease is a natural process that happens when a woman reaches menopause but it may also be caused by an underlying condition such as a disease or treatment.
What are the opportunities of menopause?
- A woman stops menstruating
- A woman can no longer get pregnant naturally. While this can be a misfortune for some, for others it is an opportunity for enjoying sex without the risk of getting pregnant.
- No more PMS or menstrual symptoms
What are the dangers of menopause?
Menopause comes with symptoms and such symptoms can begin years or few months before menopause and could last for about 4 years or more after your last period. The severity of these symptoms varies from woman to woman. The most common of such symptoms are:
- Hot flushes: It is a sudden sensation or feeling of heat that spread throughout your body especially your upper body (chest, neck and face). This will eventually result to sweating, increase heart beat or redness of the skin (depending of your skin type). It can last from several hours to weeks. Not all women going through menopause will have hot flushes and the exact cause is not known except that we know a woman’s hormone levels are affected at menopause. However several factors have been identified to increase the severity of hot flushes: smoking, heavy alcohol intake, obesity and ethnicity. The effect of hot flushes can also be reduced by: reduced coffee and tea intake and by always keeping yourself cool. Keep yourself cool by drinking cold or iced drinks or water, taking a cold shower rather than a hot one, always stay under cool environment and spray yourself with cold water or use a cold gel pack (obtained from the pharmacy) whenever you feel hot flushes is coming.
- Night Sweat: This is hot flush that occurs at night when you are sleeping and can cause sleep discomfort.
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- Decreased sex drive or libido
- Difficulties sleeping that can keep you tired and irritated during the day
- Mood swings: Low mood or anxiety
- Poor memory and ability to concentrate
Menopause makes a woman susceptible to certain infections and diseases
- Susceptibility to urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cervical mucus normal keeps infectious agents or particles away from your vagina but at menopause it is no longer produced since the hormones responsible for their production are severely affected. This gives bacteria a free pass to easily infect you. Proper hygiene at menopause should not be compromised.
- Estrogen work together with Vitamin D, Calcium and other hormones to breakdown and rebuild bones naturally. Because at menopause estrogen levels are low, bones breakdown faster than they can be rebuild. This causes women to be 4 times more susceptible to osteoporosis (porous bones) than men. This makes the bones weak and they can break easily even from just a minor fall. Back pain is also common.
Treatment for Menopausal Symptoms
Menopausal symptoms can be very mild in some women but for others, it can be so severe that it will interfere with your day to day activity. If that is your situation then talk to a GP. Treatments usually include the following:
- Hormones replacement therapy (HRT): Since menopause is caused by low level of estrogen and progesterone, HRT simply seeks to replace such hormones through implants, tablets, gels or patches.
- Healthy eating and balance diet
- Exercise regularly to main a health weight and keep yourself active
- Lubricants or estrogen creams can be used to alleviate vagina drying and discomfort
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Help with low mode and anxiety
- Supplements such as Vitamin D and Calcium supplements and medications to help relieve bone problems. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement.