What is Menopause and How it Can Affect You
Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life that marks the beginning of infertility. A woman is considered post-menopausal 12 months after her last menstrual period, as menopause is the time period of your final menstrual cycle. Typically, menopause occurs in the late 40s or early 50s, though it could happen years earlier or later – the average age for a woman to hit menopause is 51.
The onset of menopause is marked by perimenopause – the period of time while the body
adjusts from fertility to infertility. Perimenopause can last anywhere from 6 months to several years, and is the indicator that menopause is coming soon. 12 months after your final period, you are considered to be through menopause and you transition into post-menopause.
Menopause is the 12 month period after your final menstrual cycle, before you are considered post-menopausal. During this time, your hormone production will change significantly, namely estrogen and progesterone. This rapid change in hormones can cause an imbalance, which can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, but is entirely natural. Menopause is different in every woman.
Age is the cause of menopause, and menopause is not something that you can avoid; however, there are a few factors that can bring on menopause earlier than usual.
Smoking heavily or for prolonged amounts of time can lead to early menopause.
Certain surgeries can bring on menopause, namely surgeries that remove the uterus or ovaries. A hysterectomy – the removal of the uterus – may cause menopause by stopping your periods, but your ovaries will still produce hormones normally, and you may not feel the symptoms for years, until they naturally slow down hormone production. An oophorectomy, the removal of the ovaries, will likely cause menopause symptoms to occur immediately, as the largest source of estrogen is removed from your body.
The easiest way to identify menopause is to recognize the symptoms. If you suffer from one or more of the symptoms of menopause, then you may be undergoing it.
The first thing that many women notice is the change in their menstrual periods. While it differs from woman to woman – and from cycle to cycle – a change in periods is usually the earliest sign of menopause. This can include bleeding more or less than normal, your periods lasting longer or shorter than normal, or the time between periods becoming irregular.
If you notice anything wrong with your periods, you should see a doctor to learn if it is menopause. Additionally, problems such as excessive menstrual bleeding, periods lasting longer than a week, or periods coming very close together may be a cause for alarm, and you should visit a doctor immediately.
Generally, you should not need a test to diagnose menopause, but a doctor can use a blood test to measure your hormones to check for menopause.
Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause greatly affects your hormones, so the symptoms can differ from person to person. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you may be entering into or undergoing menopause.
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal health problems, such as infection or dryness
- Difficulty controlling bladder
- Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- A sudden drop in libido
- Mood swings
- Sudden muscle loss or weight gain
Potential Risks of Menopause
During and after menopause, you will be at much higher risk for two dangerous health conditions.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to become fragile and more likely to break. Normally, your bones are constantly replacing old bone and replacing them with new bone, but because estrogen is necessary for this process, menopause can cause your body to be unable to keep your bones as strong as usual. The sudden decrease in estrogen from menopause can result in frails bones that lead to osteoporosis in women that are menopausal.
Some things that may increase your risk of developing osteoporosis during menopause include:
- Osteoporosis running in the family
- Broken bones as an adult
- Early menopause
- Calcium deficiency
- Frequent drinking or smoking
- Certain types of medications, including glucocorticoids or anticonvulsants.
There are some things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis.
Even before entering into menopause, ensure that your diet contains enough calcium and vitamin D. Regular exercise or a routine that contains weight-bearing activities like walking, running, or stair climbing may also strengthen your bones and help prevent osteoporosis.
Women are at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease for most of their lives, but during and after menopause, their risk of developing heart problems increases significantly.
Atherosclerosis, angina, heart attack, and stroke are some of the more common cardiovascular problems that affect menopausal women. Menopausal and post-menopausal women have a much higher risk of developing these conditions than other women – these diseases kill nearly 11 times as many women per year as breast cancer.
Routine exercise and a healthy diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease that comes along with the menopausal period of your life. If you smoke, quitting can also lower the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease.
There are some things you can do to help relieve the discomfort of menopause. These include:
- Get regular medical exams.
- See a doctor, and take prescribed medications
- Use a vaginal lubricant that is water-based
- Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Just don’t miss out on important vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and vitamin D.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly, especially weight-bearing exercises like jogging and stair-climbing
- Not smoking – if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, stop.
Additionally, you can talk to a medical professional about hormone replacement therapy to help maintain a healthy balance as your body goes through these changes. Keep in mind that this treatment should always be discussed in-depth with your doctor before beginning.