Most women from an early age know that word – menopause. When we were little, we used to watch our mothers, aunts, and friends’ moms fanning their damp faces and wondered why they were so excessively hot, even sometimes why they were so angry! Being grown-up means, we have heard much more about menopause, not fully understanding, like so many women, when it starts and when it ends. And for those who have experienced this journey, well, they say it can be quite a trip! Your body will start providing you with the physical clues in the perimenopause stage already.
Facts About Menopause
If you look in the dictionary, you will see menopause simply means the ceasing of menstruation, the time in women’s lives, around 45-50, when menstruation ceases. It’s at this age when menopause usually starts. Even though it is a normal and natural part of aging, there are going to be symptoms of menopause and changes that will signify you are in the transition. It is because the estrogen and progesterone hormones start declining.
Once a woman has stopped releasing eggs from her ovaries and doesn’t have a period for a full year, that can be considered that she has entered the menopause. It’s not a medical illness, and it’s not a cause for concern. The hardest part of menopause is the physical and emotional side effects that it brings – like low energy, weight gain, low sex drive, and mood changes too. And a common way to deal with these sometimes “nasty’ side effects is to allow your doctor to recommend the right treatment for you.
“Menopause is a legitimate phase of life,” says Susan Mattern, Distinguished Research Professor of History at the University of Georgia. A book she wrote is called “The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, & Meaning of Menopause. She says ….. “We wouldn’t be human without it; it’s part of what makes us a super adaptable unique species.”
Midlife back in the day was a time when a woman became the mother-in-law and then the grandmother, holding more status and power in the family. Susan says we’ve lost that, even though we’ve gained status in other ways through work and business. The years after a woman experiences menopause can be incredibly productive and influential, she says.
The Start of Menopause and How Long It Lasts
Women always ask, how long does menopause last? Symptoms can all start during the perimenopause time, says Susan D. Reed, M.D. She is the Chief of Service for Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Harborview Medical Center in Washington. She says symptom-severity will also vary from one person to the next like she has patients in their 70s who still experience hot flashes, yet some women have never experienced them.
The most intense symptoms – changes in a woman’s period, and night sweats, can last for around four years, but all the symptoms, Susan Reed says, can last for an average of 10 years. That is when you reach post-menopause.
Every woman will experience different signs of menopause, though. During perimenopause, you might be skipping periods for months even, and then suddenly start again. Note that even though you might have irregular periods, pregnancy is still possible. If you did skip a period but aren’t sure whether you have started the menopause phase, consider a pregnancy test.
What are the early symptoms of menopause?
Some of the most common menopause early symptoms include:
Maybe you have noticed that your periods never come on time; they are becoming irregular? That’s a typical sign that you are approaching menopause. In perimenopause, periods tend to occur every two to four months on average, coming and going erratically, sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter.
- Night sweats and hot flashes – John Hopkin’s University says that 75% of all menopausal women do experience hot flashes for about 2 years. 15% of them suffered from “severe hot flashes” caused by hormonal changes that control body temperature.
- Mood swings – Women can experience increased irritability, anxiousness, and even be very depressed. Don’t leave it there – get hold of your doctor – you can get off the roller-coaster of up-and-down moods.
- Vaginal dryness -The vagina loses its elasticity (it’s called vaginal atrophy). Thinness and dryness of the vagina cause higher susceptibility to urinary tract infections, which are caused by loss of vaginal fluids.
- Increased abdominal fat as well as weight gain – This is because the metabolism has slowed down.
- Sleep problems – It’s during perimenopause through to post-menopause that women report that they have the most sleeping problems. Often these sleeping problems are accompanied by anxiousness and depression. Around 61% of women in menopause report sleeping problems and sleep apnea problems. Hot flashes interrupt sleep quality, and the frequent awakening causes fatigue the following day.
- Thinning dry skin and hair – This occurs because of lower levels of estrogen. Skin and hair are then prone to thinning, with the skin getting saggy and wrinkly. Fortunately, you can relieve skin-related problems with fantastic products on the market, eating a nourishing diet, and hydrating the skin.
- Urination changes – Some women need to urinate urgently or often, and others battle to control their urination.
- Sagging breasts – Breasts lose their volume and fatty tissue and start to sag more.
- Decreased sex drive – When blood flow is reduced to the vagina, the labia and the muscle tissue of the clitoris shrink. This applies to the ovaries and uterus as well and the muscles in the uterus become harder (fibrotic). The cervix, too, becomes narrower and smaller.
Management of Menopause
Menopause, no doubt, can bring on many changes in the body – maybe your mood has changed completely, and these days you feel sad, anxious, and depressed. Your doctor might prescribe antidepressants or therapy for you that will get you through the tough times. In other cases, he might start you off with non-prescription treatments to make your symptoms bearable.
Not all women want treatment for the symptoms of menopause, but some who find their symptoms unbearable will find out about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This involves taking estrogen to replace the hormones in your body, which have declined. It often relieves a lot of the symptoms.
There are many types of hormone replacement therapy, and all of them will affect your hormones in some way – base your decision on what is best for you.
There are HRT alternatives too. If HRT isn’t up your street, your GP might recommend other medications like clonidine (a high blood pressure medicine) or an antidepressant. Some cause nasty side effects, which you will need to discuss with your doctor before you start treatment.
Some women don’t like the thought of taking HRT because it has been linked to risks of breast and ovarian cancer. A review in the Lancet from 2015 shows that even short-term use of HRT can increase the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 43%. That’s why many women opt for natural alternatives.
Phytoestrogens are compounds that occur naturally in plants. Eating veggies, fruits, grains, and legumes, you get phytoestrogens from your diet. Phytoestrogens can provide some of the same benefits as natural and synthetic estrogen. More research is required to fully understand everything that phytoestrogens do. But so far, there are no known health risks from eating more plant foods. Talk to your doctor before you decide to take phytoestrogen supplements.
Many herbs and foods contain phytoestrogens – here is a list of the most notable sources:
- Black cohosh
- Chaste tree berry
- Evening primrose
- Dong Quai
- Legumes (beans, peas, peanuts)
- Licorice root
- Red clover
- Soy (tofu, tempeh, miso, soymilk)
You should be safe getting phytoestrogens from food when your diet is filled with a variety of veggies, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, and seeds to get the benefits.
Other healthy supplements for the treatment of menopause to replace HRT:
- Vitamin E – reduces stress
- DHEA – the hormone of youth
- Omega 3 – essential fatty acids
- Milk thistle – decreases hot flashes
- Ginseng – a mood booster
- St. John’s Wort – controls mood swings
- Wild yam – a great alternative to HRT
- Vitamin D – getting life-giving sun
- Vitamin B-complex – reduces stress and anxiety
- Flax seeds ease the night sweats
- Calcium – prevents bone loss
There aren’t guarantees that natural treatments will help decrease all of your menopause symptoms.
According to one review published by the National Women’s Health Network, some studies show that a few of the natural options described above are effective for a lot of women, while for some women, they don’t work at all. You will have to do your research and try out different natural remedies to figure out what works best for you. It might be so worth it to you because surely it beats increasing your chances of the side effects of using risky hormonal drugs; also remember all-natural products must be high quality and pure.
In addition, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is trying all the time to increase funding for long-term studies to discover the safety and effectiveness of natural herbs and botanicals for menopause.
Frequently Asked Questions
The two most serious ones that women complain of most are hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Estrogen is an important hormone for women because it protects their bones. This hormone decreases sharply when women reach menopause, causing bone loss and the reasons why some women develop osteoporosis
Women of any age can be at risk for heart disease, but the risk factors for heart disease can increase at the time women go through menopause, with ages between 51 and 54. Put it this way, menopause doesn’t cause heart disease, but it’s the time of life when women should be taking extra care of their cardiovascular health. Ten years after menopause, a woman’s risk of heart attacks increases significantly.
The main changes that happen during menopause are cessation of periods, hot flashes, weight gain, mood changes, etc. Did you know that if your doctor has told you that you need to have a hysterectomy, and if you have both of your ovaries removed during the hysterectomy, you will reach the menopause straight away? This procedure is called a bilateral oophorectomy. You will no longer have periods and will experience menopausal symptoms straight away.
In conclusion, menopause can often leave you with the feeling that your youth is over and that it is too late to do anything you wanted to. But many women have found that life after menopause is one of nature’s best-kept secrets. According to a survey in Health Plus magazine, 72% of women said they were “just as attractive as before,” 82% said they feel “as feminine as before,” 80% said they experienced a “sense of freedom,” and 60% said they felt “better than ever before.” Deal with your menopause, it is going to happen, but be prepared and ready, possibly, for what could be the best years of your life!