What is menopause?
Menopause is a normal and natural time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods stop due to a drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause ovulation to occur, and when their levels are decreased women stop ovulating and can no longer get pregnant. A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has not menstruated for a full year. Before the year mark, it is possible that she is just experiencing irregular periods, which are typical during perimenopause, and is still able to get pregnant. Perimenopause can last between 2 and 8 years, depending on the woman.
Typically, menopause happens naturally around age 51, although some women experience menopause as early as 40 or as late as 55. In certain cases, menopause is induced by operations like and oophorectomy, in which a woman has both ovaries removed for medical reasons. Menopause can also be induced by certain medical treatments like chemotherapy, which can suppress female hormones. With induced menopause, the hormone drop is generally more abrupt and symptoms can be worse, although they will typically last for a shorter period of time.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
The most common side effect of menopause, many women get irregular periods for several years before they stop. Hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, can help lessen this side effect somewhat, but there are not many effective treatments. During this time, a woman transitioning into menopause is still able to get pregnant, so birth control methods should still be used.
Hot flashes occur periodically among perimenopausal women. These are moments of feeling extremely warm, during which time ones face and neck might get red. Certain women experience sweating during hot flashes, and some will have chills following their hot flashes. The frequency and severity of hot flashes varies from woman to woman.
Osteoporosis, or the loss of bone density, is most common in women who have undergone menopause because female hormones help maintain bone density. Once hormone levels decrease, it becomes much more likely that bone density will be lost, which can lead to fractures and breaks.
Many women experience mood swings, which may be similar to or more pronounced than those experienced during menstruation. These can include crabbiness and sensitivity, and can also lead to emotional responses like crying without understanding why.
Many women have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep during perimenopause. Often, these are due to night sweats, or hot flashes that happen during the night and lead to perspiration. This lack of restful sleep often leads to feeling fatigued during the day.
Vaginal and urinary problems.
The bladder and urinary tract rely on estrogen to remain healthy and strong, so lower hormone levels can decrease urinary health. This can lead to urinary urge incontinence, which is a decreased ability to hold urine, or to urinary stress incontinence, which causes urine to leak out when a woman coughs, sneezes, or laughs.
Menopause can also lead to vaginal dryness because estrogen helps lubricate the vagina. This can lead to discomfort, especially during intercourse. Many women feel a decreased desire for sex during menopause due to this discomfort. Additionally, menopausal women have higher rates of vaginal infections and urinary tract infections, which increases this discomfort.
How can I relieve the symptoms?
Remaining active has many health benefits, but is most important in preventing osteoporosis and regulating sleep. Having an active lifestyle can also help lessen mood swings, and will increase your overall health during this transition. It is recommended that menopausal women get about two and a half hours of medium intensity exercise, one hour and fifteen minutes of high intensity exercise, or some combination of the two each week to maintain physical and emotional health.
After menopause, women need increased calcium and vitamins B6 and B12 intake to prevent osteoporosis, so it is important to maintain a balanced diet. Getting the appropriate nutrients can also help regulate your sleep cycle and decrease mood swings, leading to a more comfortable daily life.
Keep having routine checkups.
Many women believe that once they have reached menopause, annual gynecological visits are no longer necessary because they can no longer get pregnant. However, menopause does not eliminate your risk for developing breast or cervical cancer, both of which are screened for during exams. Even after menopause, it is important to continue checking up on your reproductive health to ensure that you do not develop cancerous tissue.
Visiting your doctor about vaginal or urinary problems related to menopause will also allow you to be treated for the problems, and can help to relieve the discomfort.
Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle can mitigate many of the symptoms of menopause and make your transition less uncomfortable. Be sure to consult with your doctor when you begin experiencing menopause symptoms to ensure that you are taking all the necessary steps to remain healthy and comfortable after menopause has occurred.