Now menopause is something that most people have heard of although many wish that they had not. The term menopause refers to your periods stopping forever. It is important to note that this is not an illness and is a normal part of life. In fact many say that knowledge and wisdom in the female is greatest in those who have been through menopause. Perhaps the only negative thing about menopause is that some of the symptoms it can cause may be distressing. Some of these symptoms may last for several years and vary between each individual. However there are treatments available that can help.
What happens in the menopause?
Your doctor will tell you that you have been through menopause when you have not had a period for one year. But you can get symptoms that are associated with menopause well before you actually got through it. The reason for this is that your body goes through very important hormonal changes that will prepare it for life after your period. Changes can begin as early as ten years before you actually go through menopause. When you get closer to the age of menopause (average of 53 years of age) your ovaries begin to make less estrogen and progesterone hormone. As a result of this in the years leading up to menopause you may notice that your periods are not as regular as usual. Your ovaries continue to make less of these two hormones, until eventually they make such a small amount that you stop having your periods. At this point it can be said that you have reached menopause. Once you have officially been through menopause you can no longer get pregnant, but it is important that you use contraception in the years leading up to menopause. This is especially important because you will not know that your periods have completely stopped until you have been without one for a year. Although most women go through menopause within the ages of 45-55, some have early menopause. This is said to occur when it occurs before the age of 40 years. Also menopause may occur late and some women can still be having periods when they are over 55 years. Late menopause often occurs throughout families, but may also occur if you are overweight.
What are the symptoms?
As with the onset of the age of menopause the symptoms are also incredibly variable from person to person. In fact some women have no symptoms when they go through menopause and others find it one of the hardest things they will ever have to face in their lives. There are some symptoms that are directly related to the hormone changes occurring in your body. But there are other changes that might be caused by emotional changes or changes associated with aging. Irregular periods are often a sign that menopause is about to occur and you may find that periods are either heavier or lighter. They may be increased or decreased in frequency and may last longer or only a few days. Once again these things vary from person to person and it is normal to expect these changes. However if you experience very heavy bleeding such that you need to change pads or tampons every hour or if you get mid cycle spotting or bleeding after sex then see your doctor.
Some of the more common symptoms of menopause include:
• Hot flushes, this is where you go red in the face and feel hot all of a sudden. You may find that certain things trigger these hot flushes such as caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods.
•Night sweats, usually caused by hot flushes at night.
•Your vagina becomes dryer as the lining inside becomes thinner. This can make sex painful and may cause vaginal itching.
•A loss of interest in sexual activity.
• Many people experience mood swings and may feel depressed or often find they are in a bad mood. These are negative feelings that can include being panicky, forgetful, irritable and anxious.
• Weight gain can be a problem as well as a loss of muscle tone and an increase in the amount of fat surrounding your stomach.
In most cases your doctor will be able to tell you if what you are experiencing is menopause. However if you are younger (<40 years) then the doctor may ask you to take a blood test that can determine if it is definitely menopause or not.
What will happen to me?
As mentioned before the way in which women experience menopause is highly variable and differs greatly between individuals. Some women have very little problems and others find it a significant challenge. If you do really struggle with menopause please note that this is not because there is anything wrong with your body but is simply because all of our bodies react differently to the process. A large survey was done in women aged between 45 and 54 years that found that most of them had at least one symptom of menopause. Although more than half of these women said that these symptoms were not a problem for them.
In most cases experience of menopause is related to other things that are going on in a women’s life. Women who are under lots of stress may find it more difficult to cope. Some women see menopause as a positive step in life and this is associated with better outcomes in terms of symptom management. Women who feel anxious or depressed about menopause tend to do much worse. After you have been through menopause you must take extra care of your health, especially looking after your heart and your bones. There are several ways to do this including eating a healthy well balanced diet, cutting down on alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and having a regular exercise schedule.
What treatments work?
Symptoms of menopause can vastly interfere with the lives of many women around the world. Fortunately there are treatments available and things that you can do to reduce these symptoms and make menopause a smooth transition into elderly womanhood. Hormone replacement therapy is one option and is covered in another article; also herbal and other medicinal treatments are available.
Things that you can do yourself are listed below and seem to help many women significantly but do bear in mind that there is no scientific evidence for them.
If you are having hot flushes then it may help to breathe deeply and relax. You should also aim to avoid triggers if you think that this will help. Running your wrists or body under cool water in the shower may help, as will sleeping in a cool bedroom and avoiding many layers of bedding, using cotton sheets and having a cold drink of water handy may also be beneficial.
If you experience pain during sex or have a dry and itchy vagina then the first thing that you should do is visit your doctor and make sure that you don’t have an infection. If this is not the case then you should try a lubricant or moisturizer from your chemist. Also if you have lost interest in sex then you should talk to your partner about this, sometimes a councilor may be able to help you.
If you are feeling depressed of low in energy then you should focus on doing things that you find enjoyable. It is important to visit friends and maintain lots of social contact. You should eat a healthy diet and exercise on a regular basis. Sometimes going to yoga or Pilates may help. Also ensure that you get lots of sleep and learn about relaxation techniques.