What you really need to know about Menopause
Last updated date: 25-Feb-2022
13 mins read
Menopause represents the moment in which a woman has not menstruated for at least 12 consecutive months and her body is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. Menopause does not occur over night as it is, actually, the result of numerous changes within the body.
Statistically, menopause occurs between the age of 45 and 60 years old, but it can also occur earlier or later in life, both naturally or induced. The average menopause age at which women encounter it is 51 years old.
Menopause is the result of years of changes within the body and it does not mark the end of what it might seem a continuous process.
Menopause is preceded by perimenopause, which is usually stimulated between 30 years old and 40 years old. Perimenopause represents the beginning of complex changes, as the levels of estrogen, that is produced by the ovaries, start to oscillate.
The first sign of perimenopause that you might encounter consists of changes in the menstrual cycle, as the duration of each cycle can become shorter or longer than the usual. Also, the flow of menstrual bleeding might get lighter or even heavier than what you are used to. Sometimes, during perimenopause, you might even notice that in some months, the menstrual cycle does not occur at all.
Even if these changes are already documented, in case of noticing abnormal bleedings, you should discuss it with your healthcare professional, as the risk of other health conditions could still exist. Also, it is for the best to avoid any confusion between abnormal bleedings resulted from perimenopausal cycles and other health conditions.
During perimenopause, you might also start to suffer of other symptoms, that were not part of your life before. The first symptoms you should get acclimatized to are related to episodes of hot flashes and even insomnia.
Even if the ovaries are rarely releasing eggs at this stage, so the fertility is declining, you might still be able to give birth. But this aspect highly depends from woman to woman.
Perimenopause can take longer in some cases and shorter in other. Usually, it takes several years until the menopause stage is reached.
Menopause occurs when the ovaries are not able to perform their role at maximum capacity. Also, menopause is the stage at which the body is already experiencing various changes, due to already lower levels of:
- Estrogen. It develops and regulates the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone. This hormone stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles in the ovary;
- Luteinizing hormone. It helps the ovaries produce oestradiol;
- Progesterone. It assists the regulation process of the cycle;
- Testosterone. It helps the growth and maintenance of the female reproductive tissue and bone mass.
Menopause can occur naturally, due to ageing of the ovaries, but it can also be induced. Usually, menopause is induced when there is also another health condition that seriously affects the reproductive system and a surgical intervention is needed, such as bilateral oophorectomy or removal of the ovaries.
Moreover, the menopause can also be induced due to therapies and treatments for ovarian ablation, which is the process of turning off the function of the ovaries.
Furthermore, induced menopause can be a result of exposure of the pelvic area to radiations or a result of pelvic injuries, in which the ovaries have been severely damaged or even completely destroyed.
Postmenopause is the period that is reached after getting through menopause. At this stage, the hormone levels are in completely different parameters than those needed for sustaining the reproductive function. Therefore, if you were considering the usage of birth control, you no longer need it at this point.
Menopause early age
The menopause can also appear earlier than it is naturally supposed to. This could happen due to medical treatments, surgical interventions or other medical conditions that affect the ovaries.
The main reasons for which the menopause can occur prematurely are:
- Chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer;
- Metabolic, autoimmune or genetic conditions;
- Oophorectomy, which is the surgical procedure that consists of removal of the ovaries; it is usually performed in order to treat or just prevent the ovarian cancer or the breast cancer;
- Hysterectomy, which is another surgical procedure that is performed to remove the uterus and surrounding tissue; it can influence the occurrence of premature menopause.
Moreover, in about 6 out of 10 women who encounter premature menopause, the actual causes are not identified.
Menopause symptoms and menopause early symptoms
During the menopause, each woman might feel this stage in life completely different. The experiences one has to face are varying from woman to woman, as each person is unique. Some women could endure a more uncomfortable and painful period, while others could get easier through it.
As menopause is not something that occurs overnight, as it is the result of a change process throughout the years, nor the factors that influence the experience of menopause are occurring all of a sudden. All these changes that happen in the bodies are done gradually. Therefore, the lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on the way that you might feel the menopause. For example, if you are a smoker, you are prone to boost the risks of severity and to increase the duration of symptoms.
Normally, the general symptoms for perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause are alike. For example, the most encountered symptoms of perimenopause are:
- Decreasing frequency of menstruation;
- Heavier or lighter than normal menstruation;
- Experiencing hot flashes or night sweats.
Also, general symptoms that you might encounter during menopause are:
- Focusing problems;
- Memory problems;
- Limited libido or sex drive;
- Weight gain;
- Reduction of muscle mass;
- Vaginal dryness;
- Dryness of the skin;
- Frequent urination;
- Heart’s increased number of beats per second;
- Sore breasts;
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs);
- Painful or stiff joints;
- Loss or thinning of the hair.
Menopause side effects
Unfortunately, menopause can also ignite some health complications which could alter the quality of everyday life. The complications that can be resulted due to menopause are:
- Urinary incontinence;
- Vulvovaginal atrophy;
- Mood or sudden emotional changes;
- Dyspareunia, or painful intercourse;
- Heart or blood vessel disease;
- Slower metabolic function;
- Osteoporosis, or weaker bones with reduced mass and strength;
- Periodontal disease.
Depending on multiple variable factors, menopause can affect all women in various ways. Nevertheless, there are common symptoms among many of the women who are experiencing perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause, such as those related to sleep problems.
It is considered that about 12% of worldwide women are suffering of sleep disorders. Statistically, as the age is increasing towards 50, then 40% of the women are encountering sleep problems. The point that women worldwide are complaining in regards to the fact that quality of sleep decreases significantly starting with perimenopause and getting worse during the menopause and postmenopause backs up the statistical data.
The hormonal changes are made gradually and this is why the quality of sleep is also gradually affected.
Data shows that among women who are through perimenopause, sleep disorders affect between 39% to 47% out of them all, while 35% to 60% of postmenopausal women are affected by the same problems.
The most common conditions that severely influence the quality of sleep among women over 30 years old are:
- Hot flashes;
- Sleep disordered breathing.
The hot flashes are described to be burning sensations across the whole body. At the beginning of the hot flashes the body’s temperature and the blood flow increases considerably and make the women who suffer from this condition to wake up. They come along with a lot of sweating. It is thought that the starting point of hot flashes is in the chest and they spread all over the body. These hot flashes are also accompanied by a lot of energy and adrenaline that make it very difficult for the women to fall back asleep.
An episode of hot flashes could least between 30 seconds to even 5 minutes and it can be truly uncomfortable. The quality of sleep is actually affected by the frequency of the hot flashes, as the night’s deep sleep periods are getting too short.
The studies show that 75% of the women that are at menopause suffer of hot flashes. The studies also show that the episodes of hot flashes appear for approximately 7 years, but they can persist for longer than 10 years.
Studies also show that 61% of the postmenopausal women are affected by insomnia.
Insomnia is another a chronic condition that affects not only the quality of sleep, but the quality of life overall. A patient is considered to suffer of insomnia if it has difficulties in falling and staying asleep for more than 3 nights per week. Moreover, if suffering of insomnia, the patient wakes up early and does not have the necessary energy to get through the day. Insomnia can also stimulate some complications, such as concentration and memory problems, headaches, and even depression, anxiety and irritability.
Research carried out so far also reveals that the lower progesterone levels get, the more the chances of sleep apnea increase, as progesterone is considered to prevent the relaxation of upper airways. When the upper airways are too relaxed, the pauses of breathing occur.
Menopause and hair loss
During menopause, the body is facing a hormonal imbalance, which can actually influence the loss of hair or the hair thinning. Women do not losing hair like men do, meaning they usually do not get to have bald spots, even if the hair falls during brushing or showering.
The estrogen and progesterone are the hormones that assist the growing process of hair and keep it sticked to the head for longer. If the levels of these two hormones decrease, which is one of the main characteristics of menopause, the hair becomes thinner. Interestingly, along with the decrease of these two hormones, the level of androgens usually increases. Therefore, while the head’s hair looks like getting less and less, tiny hairs appear on the face, usually on the chin.
There are other reasons for the hair loss during the menopause, beside the hormonal changes. The factors that also influence the hair loss are related to stress, lack of specific nutrients or even the existence of other medical conditions.
Menopause for man
Between 40 years old and 50 years old, men tend to face depression, loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction and they also have specifical physical and emotional symptoms, such as:
- Mood swings;
- Loss of muscle mass;
- Developing large belly;
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm;
- Poor focusing and short-term memory.
This period of a man’s life is usually mistakenly referred to as the menopause for men or the andropause. Even if the testosterone levels are decreasing with 2% annually in men, this change is not able to influence the quality of life.
The above mentioned symptoms could be just sometimes resulted from a deficiency of testosterone, but usually, they are stimulated due to external factors and psychological conditions, as both the mood swings and loss of libido could lead to stress, depression or anxiety.
The psychological problems of men over 40 years old are usually related to money and relationship issues.
Moreover, the menopause for men could also be caused by the:
- Lack of sleep;
- Lack of exercise;
- Excessive drinking of alcohol;
- Low self-esteem.
Beside poor choices in terms of lifestyle, the so referred to menopause for man can occur as a result of hypogonadism.
Hypogonadism occurs when the gonads (sex glands) produce little, if any, sex hormones. This condition exists since birth and can also delay the puberty. Normally, this condition is developed at later stages of life or by obese persons or by persons who suffer of type 2 diabetes.
While some women might easily pass through the period of menopause, others might feel it terrible, as the symptoms could get very intense and uncomfortable. In such situations, the women who are experiencing a difficult menopause should seek ways to treat the symptoms and the causes of menopause’s complications.
One solution is to seek medical attention. The specialist will examine you and should be able to inform you if you are in the perimenopause or in the menopause.
Normally, the treatments that the specialist can prescribe are supposed to deal with the adjacent conditions, such as hot flashes; flushing; vaginal atrophy or osteoporosis, loss of hair and vaginal dryness.
There are two specific treatments that the specialists could recommend. The first one is the Estrogen Replacement Therapy. This treatment consists in increasing the estrogen. The second treatment is the Hormone Replacement Therapy. This second treatment represents a method of increasing the estrogen and the progesterone, as well. Both treatments are used to improve the symptoms of menopause, such as the hot flashes, the insomnia or any other mood swings.
The Hormone Replacement Therapy could raise some risks to those who have previously suffered strokes, heart attacks, or any type of cancer. Therefore, the Hormone Replacement Therapy is prescribed at the lowest possible dose and it is used just as a short-term treatment.
The Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat symptoms of menopause, such as insomnia and the low-quality sleep. This procedure consists of identifying, along with a therapist, the negative thoughts and behaviors that alter your sleep. During this therapy, you will learn how to substitute these negative thoughts with positive ones, that will help you sleep better at night.
The hot flashes and the sleep quality can also be both improved using low doses of antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine or bazedoxifene.
Beside the medical treatments that the specialist could provide for you during menopause, there are also effective home remedies.
Soy contain phytoestrogen, which is very alike to the estrogen. The studies reveal the fact that following a diet that is rich in soy could totally decrease the episodes of hot flashes and it could also improve the quality of sleep.
The phytoestrogens are not found only in the soy products, such as soymilk or soybeans, but also in other over the counter supplements, such as ginseng or red clover extract.
The sleep hormone, melatonin, is also available as an over-the-counter medication. Due to the fact that melatonin levels decrease while ageing, it is recommended to take it during menopause or postmenopause.
Beside the medical treatments and the supplements that are available over-the-counter and which are effective, it is crucially to adapt to a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle consists of more aspects of the daily life.
First of all, in order to have a better experience during menopause and postmenopause, it is best to control your body weight. As women tend to gain a few pounds after menopause, it is highly recommended to reduce the intaking number of calories, especially to avoid eating in the evening. If you do so, along with 20 or 30 minutes long exercise sessions, you will definitely feel better, as you will:
- Increase your body’s energy;
- Increase the quality of the night’s sleep;
- Become more optimistic and more positive
- Get to have a better general state of health.
It would be great if along with the physical exercise, you could also try some relaxation techniques, such as yoga, box breathing or meditation.
Second of all, in case you are a smoker, it would be a milestone if you would quit, as the cigarettes are known to stimulate worse symptoms of menopause. Alcohol is another risk provider, too. Consuming large amounts of alcohol could significantly get your health status worse. Therefore, quitting smoking and reducing the quantity of consumed alcohol could be part of the treatment of menopause, as these two decisions will positively affect your symptoms.
Furthermore, it is also very important to eat healthy. Always pay attention to what you are eating, as you might want to avoid fast foods or other foods that are unhealthy, such as sweets, for example.
Also, adding to your diet calcium, vitamin D and magnesium supplements could help you maintain easier a healthy path, as these are also helping you get higher energy levels and a better quality of sleep.
It is also important to take care of your skin. As during menopause, you might end up with skin dryness, it is for the best to apply moisturizers daily, in order to keep your skin healthy, as well. If you are suffering from skin dryness, it is recommended to avoid prolonged bathing or swimming, as being exposed for longer periods to water could irritate the skin.
Menopause is a stage of life to which inevitably every woman reaches to, as it is the result of normal and gradual hormonal changes.
Normally, menopause could be reached only after 12 consecutive months without menstruation. Menopause can also be induced, as a result of undergoing a surgical procedure with the purpose of treating different medical conditions that the ovaries could suffer to.
Depending on your overall health status and your lifestyle, menopause could be easier or harder to get through, as the choices you take daily in regards to your body are gradually influencing its health. The results could be seen in a couple of years, just when you are reaching menopause.
So, a very difficult menopause could be caused by medical conditions, but it is usually the result of poor decisions in regards to your body during the previous 10 years, such as not exercising, smoking, drinking alcohol and not following a healthy diet.
Always take care of yourself and try to maintain a healthy life style as much as possible. The healthier you are, the less chances of complications.