Everything you need to know about menopause
What you need to know about menopause.
Menopause is a permanent end of menstruation and typically occurs in women who are in their late 40’s or early 50’s. It results in a decreased production of estrogen and progesterone hormones in the ovaries, giving rise to symptoms that include hot flashes, weight gain, or vaginal dryness.
It is important to know that menopause is not a disease but rather a phase in a woman’s life cycle
Women past a certain age will experience menopause. Menopause is defined as having no menstrual period for one year. The age you experience it can vary, but it typically occurs in your late 40s or early 50s.
Menopause can cause many changes in your body. The symptoms are the result of a decreased production of estrogen and progesterone in your ovaries. Symptoms may include hot flashes, weight gain, or vaginal dryness. Vaginal atrophy contributes to vagina dryness. With this, there can be inflammation and thinning of the vaginal tissues which adds to uncomfortable intercourse.
Menopause can also increase your risk for certain conditions like osteoporosis. You may find that getting through menopause requires little medical attention. Or you may decide you need to discuss symptoms and treatment options with a doctor.
Here are the 10 things every woman should know about menopause.
- At what age does menopause occur?
The average age for the onset of menopause is 46. A majority of women stop getting their period between the ages of 45 to 55. However, the ovary function can begin to decline years before the actual onset. Some women will even continue to have their periods into their late 50’s. Although the age for menopause is thought to be genetically determined, things such as smoking and intensive treatments like chemotherapy can also accelerate ovarian decline, resulting in an earlier menopause.
- What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
Perimenopause is the period of time right before menopause begins. It is a transition period during which hormone production from the ovaries begins to decline. Hot flashes and irregular periods are the most common giveaways of perimenopause. Once you stop having a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months, you’ve entered menopause.
- What are the symptoms caused by reduced estrogen levels?
Hot flashes are the most common symptom and are experienced by about 75% of women during menopause. Other symptoms include fatigue, trouble concentrating, depression or painful sex due to lack of vaginal lubrication and breast tenderness. Some women may also experience muscle and joint pain (arthralgia) or mood swings.
- What does a hot flash feel like?
During a hot flash, you will feel a considerable rise in body temperature. Hot flashes affect the upper body and skin, resulting in redness or blotchiness. This sudden rise in temperature can lead to excessive sweating, heart palpitations, and feelings of dizziness. Right after your hot flash, you may also get chills. Hot flashes vary in intensity and typically last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes.
The occurrence of hot flashes varies from person to person, for some it may occur daily or several times a day, while for others hot flashes may occur over the course of a year or several years.
- Can hot flashes be prevented?
Hot flashes can’t be prevented, but the frequency of hot flashes can be reduced by avoiding triggers. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, stress, obesity, spicy food and hot weather are some of the triggers that increase the incidence of hot flashes. Talk to your doctor if your hot flashes are unbearable. Birth control, hormone therapy, and other prescription medicines may help reduce the occurrences and intensity of hot flashes. Practise deep breathing techniques during a hot flash to try and minimise the intensity.
- How does menopause affect bone health?
The decline in estrogen production breaks down the calcium in the bones. This decreases the bone density, leading to a condition known as osteoporosis. Women experience accelerated bone loss in the first few years after their last menstrual period. This makes them more susceptible to hip, spine, and other bone fractures. In order to maintain bone health, you must eat calcium-rich foods (dairy and leafy greens) and take vitamin D supplements. Smoking and alcohol consumption further deteriorate bone health and should be avoided. Regular inclusion of weight training and other exercises can also help improve bone health.
- Is heart disease linked to menopause?
The decreased estrogen levels can prevent the body from retaining flexible arteries, impacting the function of the heart. This can give rise to symptoms such as cardiac palpitations and dizziness. Maintaining a healthy weight, following a balanced diet, and exercising can reduce the chances of developing heart conditions associated with menopause.
- Is weight gain eminent with menopause?
Changes in the hormone levels, coupled with ageing can contribute to weight gain. A focus on maintaining a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and practising healthy habits can help with weight management. Being overweight can also increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.
- Do menopause symptoms differ from person to person?
Yes, the symptoms of menopause vary from one woman to another, even if they belong to the same family. This is because age and the rate of decline of the ovary function differ tremendously across all women. Menopause isn’t a one-size-fits-all event. Some women reach natural menopause with little to no trouble. Consult a doctor to understand your symptoms and find ways to manage them if you feel they are interfering with your day-to-day functioning.
- Is hormone replacement a safe option for management of menopausal problems?
Several hormone therapies are used for the treatment of hot flashes and prevention of bone loss. But they may not be right for everyone. If you have certain medical conditions, hormonal therapy may not be suitable for you. Changes to your lifestyle may help relieve many of the symptoms without the need for hormonal intervention.
Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life cycle. Regular checkups with your doctor will help you cope with menopause more effectively.
Menopause can lead to the development of complications, including:
Cardiovascular disease: A drop in estrogen levels has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Osteoporosis: A woman may lose bone density rapidly during the first few years after menopause. Low bone density leads to a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Urinary incontinence: Menopause causes the tissues of the vagina and urethra to lose their elasticity. This can result in frequent, sudden, and overwhelming urges to urinate. These urges can be followed by involuntary loss of urine. Women may involuntarily urinate after coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting during menopause.
Breast cancer: Women face a higher risk of breast cancer following menopause. Regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk.
You may need treatment if your symptoms are severe or affecting your quality of life. Hormone therapy may be an effective treatment in women under the age of 60, or within 10 years of menopause onset, for the reduction or management of:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- vaginal atrophy
Other medications may be used to treat more specific menopause symptoms, like hair loss and vaginal dryness.
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