A Closer Look at Menopause 

Menopause is defined as the lack of a period for 12 consecutive months. This occurs when women stop producing the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are needed for menstruation to occur.    

Symptoms of menopause include mood swings, body temperature changes, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats just to name a few. Many women develop symptoms of menopause up to 4 years prior, which is known as perimenopause.

The average age that women hit menopause is 51, but can occur anytime between age 45 and 55. There is a small number of women who experienced menopause prior to 40, or between 40 and 45 years old. This is referred to as early menopause.

Experts believe that reaching menopause is genetically determined, but certain factors could affect when you’ll have it. Oftentimes, lifestyle and existing medical conditions could lead to early menopause.

Women will go through the following stages: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause, which marks the end of your reproductive years.

  • Perimenopause – this occurs before the actual menopause. At this point, menstrual periods are irregular since the body slowly makes less estrogen. You will experience either late, skipped, or more periods. Also, menstrual flow could be light or heavy. Not all women will go through this stage and will proceed to menopause stage immediately.
  • Menopause – this is the actual menopause. During this stage, you no longer have menstrual periods for one full year and symptoms will be at highest. The ovaries have stopped releasing eggs, which also means the chances of getting pregnant are slim.

What causes menopause?

Menopause is a natural part of aging for women. As you age, ovaries reduce its production of the following hormones:

  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone
  • Luteinizing hormone or LH
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone or FLH

In addition, active ovarian follicles are lost as you get older. As a result the structures responsible for producing and releasing eggs from the ovary wall are no longer functioning properly. This signals your body that you are ready to say goodbye to reproduction.

Some women may also experience induced menopause. This occurs as a result of injury to or removal of ovaries and the related pelvic structures. Below are some examples of induced menopause.

  • Pelvic radiation
  • Pelvic injuries that severely damaged or destroyed the ovaries
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries or bilateral oophorectomy
  • Ovarian ablation or the shutdown of ovaries’ function through surgery, hormone therapy, or radiotherapy techniques

Are there other complications that come with menopause?

Menopause not only marks the end of childbearing phase, but is the time when you are more prone to complications because of the decline of crucial hormones that your body needs to function properly.

Below are common complications of menopause, that are also linked to hormone changes and natural aging.

  • Wrinkles
  • Weaker vision like cataracts or the clouding of lens of your eyes, or macular degeneration
  • Vulvovaginal atrophy or the thinning of vaginal walls due to decreasing estrogen levels
  • Painful sexual intercourse, which also leads to difficulty in achieving orgasm
  • Osteoporosis as a result of the decline in estrogen production, which also affects the amount of calcium in the bones
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Periodontal disease
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Slower metabolic function
  • Heart or blood vessel disease
  • Sudden changes in your mood or emotional state
  • Cognitive changes

The good news is there are measures you can take to reduce your chances of developing these conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms associated with menopause?

Menopausal symptoms vary for every woman. Some will experience severe symptoms while others go through this stage in a breeze.

Nonetheless, below are the early signs that will tell you that you’re entering the menopause phase:

  • Skipped or irregular menstrual periods
  • Lighter or heavier menstrual flow
  • Hot flashes, which are experienced by 75 percent of women
  • Other vasomotor signs like night sweats and flushing

You might also notice the following:

  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry eyes, skin, or mouth
  • Changes in your emotional state

Eventually, you will also experience these symptoms:

  • Weight gain as a result of lack of energy
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Hair growth in other areas of the body
  • Crankiness
  • Changes in libido
  • Memory problems
  • Headache
  • Racing heart
  • Painful or stiff joints
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty in concentrating

Keep in mind that not all women will experience these symptoms. Even family members go through the cycle differently. Your lifestyle as well as medical condition could also affect the severity and duration of these signs.

What are hot flashes?

Most women who went through menopause will agree on one thing: hot flashes.

Hot flashes are when you feel your body temperature rise. It usually affects your upper body and your skin turns red. Because of the high temperature, you could also feel:

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations

You can experience hot flashes anytime of the day, sometimes more than once a day. This could last for a year or even several years until eventually, it gets better.

The good news is there are ways to reduce the number of hot flashes you have in a day. This includes:

  • Avoiding spicy food
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Lowering your stress
  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking

Breathing exercises are helpful in managing hot flashes. At the same time, make sure you dress comfortably and in removable layers.

How is menopause diagnosed?

Your body tells you that you are about to enter menopause. You’re missing periods and you completed the checklist of symptoms. Still, it is important to consult a health practitioner so you can prepare for this condition.

In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved PicoAMH Elisa diagnostic test. This type of blood test determines whether a woman is about to or has already entered menopause. This tests the level of hormones, particularly FSH and estradiol, a form of estrogen.

A FSH level of 30 mIU per liter or higher, coupled with missed periods for one year, is a sign of menopause. This is helpful since perimenopause and menopause could lead to various health complications, so early detection could reduce your risk.

Still, there are instances when your doctor will require you to undergo several tests to confirm menopause. These tests include:

  • Blood lipid profile, which checks total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • Thyroid function test to rule out problems in the thyroid gland. Oftentimes, thyroid issues exhibit symptoms that are similar to menopause.
  • Kidney function test, which determines the health of your kidneys. Kidneys are crucial in hormone production. Difficulty in peeing or frequent urges to urinate are among the signs that your kidneys are not healthy. Consequently, these can also be signs of menopause.
  • Liver function test to check how healthy your liver is. Skin problems, fatigue, mood swings, and sleep issues are common signs of menopause, which are also signs that your liver is under pressure.
  • Hormone levels: to check the level of progesterone, testosterone, prolactin, estradiol, cortisol, Vitamin D, etc.

When you are nearing menopause, FSH and estrogen levels fluctuate daily. Aside from these tests, you also need to disclose personal information such as medical history and menstrual cycle.

Can menopause be treated?

Menopause is part of natural process of aging, similar to the decline of testosterone among men. Nonetheless, there are available treatments for the symptoms of menopause. You can get hormone therapy for the management of the following:

  • Flushing
  • Night sweats
  • Hot flashes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness

Hormone replacement therapy or HRT treatment is given to replace the hormones that your body is no longer producing. While this sounds promising, high drug doses can increase risk of breast cancer or heart problems, so make sure to take the lowest amount for shortest amount of time.

There are also specific treatments for vaginal dryness and hair loss, which are also symptoms associated with menopause. Your doctor might also prescribe any of the following:

  • Sleep medications in case of insomnia or difficulty in sleeping
  • Shampoo with two percent ketoconazole and one percent pyrithione to address hair loss
  • Topical minoxidil (5 percent) also for hair loss
  • Eflornithine hydrochloride topical cream in case of hair growth in unexpected areas
  • Estrogen-based vaginal lubricants in a form of tablet, ring, or cream to address vaginal dryness
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for anxiety, depression, and hot flashes
  • Prophylactic antibiotics for recurring urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Ospemifene for painful intercourse caused by vaginal dryness
  • Non-hormone medications to address specific symptoms like depression and vaginal dryness
  • Medications to address post-menopausal osteoporosis

Before you take any of these treatments, make sure you consult your doctor first. Do not self-medicate since this could lead to adverse effects and might have a negative impact on your health in the long run.

How can you deal with menopause?

Menopause is something you cannot escape from, but there are measures you can take to make the process less stressful.

Exercise Regularly

Weight gain is among the symptoms that come with menopause. As you age your metabolism slows down, which means you are more prone to gaining weight.

20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise will help you manage your weight. At the same time, it helps improve your mood, boosts your energy levels, promotes better sleep, and ensures your general well-being.

Comfort Is Key

Hot flashes are one of the most common issues as you go through menopause. Loose and layered clothing are helpful in managing hot flashes and night sweats. Make sure to keep your room cool as well so you won’t feel hot. Placing waterproof sheets under the bedding is also useful in making you feel comfortable at night. Having a portable fan will also be helpful, especially when you go out.

Take Care Of Your Skin

You might notice that your skin becomes dry as you age. This is another symptom of menopause that you can manage.

Make it a habit to moisturize your skin every day. Avoid going to places that are too hot or too cold since these conditions could also dry out your skin. Excessive bathing and swimming are also not helpful for your skin since it could lead to dryness as well.

Keep Yourself Hydrated

Water could give you comfort especially when you are having hot flashes. At the same time, it keeps you healthy and helps manage your weight. Make it a habit to drink at least eight glasses of water every day.

Watch Your Diet

Exercise helps manage your weight, but it doesn’t end there. If you don’t watch what you eat, then you can end up gaining weight despite the daily 20-30 minutes exercise.

Make sure to eat a healthy, well balanced diet. Increase your intake of fruits and leafy greens. Stick to lean meat and avoid the fatty parts. Omega-3 rich foods such as salmon and tuna are also beneficial for your health.

Including foods rich in calcium like milk, cheese, and other dairy products will help reduce risk of osteoporosis that is linked to menopause. You also will want to minimize, if not get rid of refined carbs and sugar since they contribute to weight gain. Take it easy on your salt consumption too, as excessive salt can contribute to bloating and hypertension.

It will be challenging at first, but maintaining a balanced diet will help ensure that your body is getting sufficient nutrients to remain healthy and reduce symptoms of menopause.

Quit Drinking Excessively

As you age, alcohol tolerance decreases as well. Still, this is not the only reason why you need to take it easy on alcohol consumption. According to experts, heavy drinking especially during menopause could increase your risk of developing:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer, particularly breast cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Heart problems

A study published in the Annals of Human Biology revealed that alcohol could increase hot flashes and night sweats. This will make you feel uncomfortable especially at night.

Does this mean you should stop drinking? Not necessarily but sticking to just one glass of wine a night is ideal.

Say Goodbye To Smoking

Aside from drinking alcohol, smoking could worsen the symptoms of menopause. In addition, women who smoke are more likely to reach menopause at an earlier age.

According to a study published in Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health, women smokers reached menopause earlier than non-smokers. A report also showed that women who are habitual or heavy smokers experienced menopause earlier, or before 50, than non-smokers.

This is because smoking activates a gene called Bar and a genetic receptor called Ahr. When activated, these two will initiate the onset of menopause by creating a pathway that helps destroy active ovarian cells. Consequently, smoking negatively affects the woman’s body response to estrogen.

Learn To Relax

Going through menopause can be stressful and lead to anxiety, depression, difficulty in concentrating, and sleep disturbances. Take some time to relax. Schedule a full body massage or enroll in Yoga classes. Simple deep breathing exercises, practicing meditation techniques, and acupuncture could also help you manage this stage in your life.

Exercise Your Brain

Memory problems are among the most alarming symptoms of menopause. As your body’s estrogen levels decrease, it can have an impact on brain function, which could result to occasional lapses and short-term memory loss.

Hormone replacement therapy could help supplement the reduction of estrogen and progesterone. For safer options, you can consider the following brain exercises:

  • Reading
  • Solving crossword puzzles or any other type of puzzle
  • Learning a new language
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Writing
  • Conversing with other people

In other words, exercise and challenge your brain to keep it going. This will help you stay sharp even as you get older. It could also reduce your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases as well.

Get A Better Night’s Rest

Interrupted sleep is a common issue in menopause.  This is due to changes in your hormones effecting your brain and leading to hot flashes, which can triggers getting up in the middle of the night. Worse, you will find difficulty in sleeping.

Women are also likely to develop sleep disorders like sleep apnea due to the decline of crucial hormones in the body. Depression and anxiety could also be contributing factors for poor sleep during menopause.

You can try the following to get a good sleep:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce gadget use at least an hour before your scheduled bedtime
  • Consider alternative therapies such as acupuncture
  • Avoid alcohol especially at night
  • Reserve big meals during breakfast or lunch

Sleeping aids could help, although this could be detrimental to your health in the long run. Melatonin is a natural non-habit forming supplement that can be taken in 2-5mg tabs. Consult your doctor regarding this first for proper prescription and dosage to avoid adverse effects.

The Bottom Line

Menopause is a natural process, which means every woman will go through it. While symptoms may be uncomfortable, especially during the first few months, there are treatments available to help you manage these. As you transition to this phase, keep in mind that lifestyle changes could also help you make this phase more comfortable for you.

The important thing is to tell someone about it. Consult a medical practitioner so they can provide you with corresponding treatments in managing menopause.

It is also important to keep your partner involved. Menopause involves a lot of changes not just physically and mentally, but also sexually. Discuss the situation you’re in so you could make necessary adjustments especially inside the bedroom.

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