Menopause – An Overview
A menopause can be defined as the period of time when a woman’s menstrual cycle halts permanently. This is a completely natural biological process and occurs mostly when a woman reaches the age of 40-50 years.
As the menstrual cycles stop, this causes infertility in the woman, but it does not stop them from leading an otherwise healthy and vital life.
At times, menopause can be accompanied by certain symptoms that can cause emotional difficulties in come women.
It is highly advisable to women to consult your doctor when these symptoms start becoming bothersome.
Symptoms of Menopause
Perimenopause is the term of period (few months to couple of years) that exhibits certain common signs and symptoms before the complete onset of menopause, such as:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Night sweats
- Mood changes
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Loss in breast volume
In rare cases, a woman might have completely normal and regular periods right up till the last month before the menopause begins. There might be some irregularity noticed in the periods as well.
Irregular menstrual periods are common during Perimenopause and the periods might even occur after a gap of 2-3 months, although pregnancy is still a possibility during this period.
Causes of Menopause
Menopause can be caused by the natural biological process or it can be caused due to another reason, such as:
- Reproductive Hormone Decrease – When a woman approaches the age of 30 years, the ovaries begin to produce less progesterone and estrogen, which control the menstruation, which eventually results in a decline in the fertility. In the 40s, the menstrual periods begin to be prolonged or shortened, lighter or heavier, less or more frequent, until eventually around the age of 50 years the menopause sets in and the menstrual cycle stops altogether.
- Hysterectomy – This is a surgical procedure to remove the uterus, but leaving the ovaries intact. Although the removal of the uterus prevents the patient to have menstrual cycles, the ovaries are still able to produce eggs, as well as progesterone and estrogen normally. But a complete hysterectomy (removal of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes) usually causes the early onset of menopause. The menopause in abrupt and is accompanied by the various signs and symptoms as seen after a naturally-occurring menopause.
- Chemotherapy/Radiation Therapy – These forms of cancer treatment methods can also bring early onset of menopause in women, accompanied by the common signs and symptoms seen with it. This is usually seen during or shortly after the treatment is performed. It does not cause permanent onset of menopause as fertility is not affected.
Complications associated with Menopause
After a woman has achieved the stage of menopause she is more vulnerable towards certain medical disorders and conditions, such as:
- Cardiovascular Diseases – As the estrogen levels in the body decrease after menopause, the risk of developing heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disorders and diseases increases significantly. Regular exercising and healthy eating habits are ideal to prevent these from developing.
- Osteoporosis – Menopause causes the bones to weaken and become brittle which is termed as a condition of ‘Osteoporosis’. Bone density is lost rapidly after a woman reaches menopause which increase the risk of Osteoporosis that makes fractures of the hips, wrists and spine more frequent in menopausal women.
- Urinary Incontinence – As a woman ages the tissues of the urethra and the vagina lose their elasticity gradually, this causes frequent, sudden and strong urges to pass urine and is often followed by an involuntary loss of urine (urge incontinence). The risk of UTI (urinary tract infection) is also increased after menopause.
- Sexual Function – Due to vaginal dryness, as a result of decrease in production of moisture as well as loss of elasticity, usually causes discomfort and light bleeding during sexual intercourse. This might also result in a decrease in the libido (sex drive).
- Weight Gain – As the rate of metabolism slows down considerably after menopause, most women tend to put on weight after during and after the menopausal transition. Eating less and healthy can help to fight off unwanted weight gain after menopause.
Although the signs and symptoms are sufficient to determine the onset of menopause, there are certain other medical conditions that might exhibit similar symptoms. So in order to rule out other medical disorders and to confirm the start of menopause, there is a special blood test that helps to check for:
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Estrogen levels as these change significantly after menopause.
- Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels, as an underactive thyroid condition may also cause similar symptoms.
Coping with Menopause
Although menopause itself does not require any form of medical treatment, its accompanying symptoms and signs are required to be treated and relieved.
These are the common treatment methods:
- Hormone Therapy – Estrogen therapy is still the most effective and successful treatment method for hot flashes. This also helps in lowering the rate of bone loss and also benefits the heart in many ways.
- Vaginal Estrogen – Vaginal estrogen can be applied directly in the vagina using a vaginal cream, ring or tablet. This treatment results in the release of a small amount of estrogen, which is absorbed by the vaginal tissues. This helps to relieve the vaginal dryness and the discomfort felt during sexual intercourse in this condition.
- Low-Dose Antidepressants – Some antidepressants may help to decrease hot flashes. This is especially advantageous for women who cannot take estrogen for health issues.