It Is Not A Disease, It Is Only A Phase In A Woman’s Life
From Our Research Desk.
Menopause is not a disease, but rather the point in a woman’s life at which she is no longer fertile, and menstrual periods have ceased. During this time, ovulation stops and estrogen hormones drop. Menopause can be accompanied by physical symptoms in some women, like hot flashes or night sweats. Menopause is the time point at which a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 months. Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause, and the symptoms of the transition can take two to ten years. Menopause can be seen as a positive beginning of a new phase of life, with opportunities to take preventive action against major health risks.
Age is the most common factor that influences menopause. The ovaries gradually lose their ability to produce hormones and ovulate with advancing age.. There are other causes of menopause, since some surgeries and medical treatments can induce menopause. These causes include removal of the ovaries, chemotherapy for cancer, and radiation therapy to the pelvis.
When the uterus is removed (hysterectomy) without removing the ovaries in a premenopausal woman, menstrual periods cannot occur, but the hormonal changes characteristic of menopause will not occur.
When Does Menopause Start?
The average age for natural menopause is 51, but it can occur earlier or later. Rarely, women may reach menopause as early as 40 or as late as 60 years of age. Women who smoke cigarettes tend to have earlier menopause than nonsmoking women. There is no way to predict in advance precisely when a particular woman will reach menopause. Menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months.
How Long Does Menopause Last?
The beginning of perimenopause to the time of menopause typically lasts two to eight years. Some women go through the transition quicker than others.
What is Perimenopause?
The transition to menopause and the time approaching menopause are referred to as perimenopause. Perimenopause means “time around menopause”. During this time the ovaries are still working, but their function has started to decrease. It’s still possible for a woman to become pregnant, even if she is showing signs of perimenopause, because she may still ovulate. Estrogen levels also rise and fall during this time.
Perimenopause symptoms vary from woman to woman. Menstrual irregularity (irregular periods) is a common symptom that women may experience during perimenopause.
List of Perimenopause Symptoms
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Worsening of premenstrual syndrome
- Lower sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
- Urinary urgency
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
Consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, since perimenopause might not be the cause:
- Periods are very heavy, or have blood clots
- Periods last several days longer than usual
- Spotting between periods
- Spotting after sex
- Periods happen closer together
Signs of Menopause: Period Changes
With approaching menopause, a woman’s menstrual periods may change. They may get shorter or longer, lighter, or heavier. The interval between periods may increase or decrease. During perimenopause, it is common for women to have a period after going several months without one. It can take years of irregular periods before a woman reaches menopause. Pregnancy is possible during perimenopause, until a woman has had a full year without periods. If you have concerns about changes in your periods, talk with your doctor. Sometimes, conditions other than menopause can also cause changes in your period.
Menopause Symptoms: Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are a common symptom around the time of menopause. A hot flash is a feeling of warmth that tends to be concentrated around the face and neck. It can cause flushing or reddening of the skin in these areas as well as the chest, arms, or back. Hot flashes vary in their intensity and can be followed by sweating and/or chills. Night sweats, waking up drenched in sweat a night, may also occur during hot flashes.
How Long do Hot Flashes Last?
Hot flashes last anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, and they may start before menstrual irregularities. Hot flashes may last up to 10 years, but 80% of women will not have any hot flashes after five years. The exact cause of hot flashes is unknown, but they are most likely linked to the hormonal and biochemical changes brought on by decreasing estrogen levels. Women can help reduce the symptoms of hot flashes by dressing in light layers, exercising regularly, using a fan, managing stress, and avoiding spicy foods.
Menopause Symptoms: Sleep Issues
Women may also experience insomnia during menopause. Insomnia during menopause can be caused by night sweats, hot flashes that occur at night. Sweating and hot flashes can make it very difficult to sleep. The changes in a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels can also alter her sleep quality.
Relief from Night Sweats
The following tips can help you sleep well if you are having night sweats:
- Use lightweight bedding
- Use a fan in the bedroom
- Wear lightweight, cotton pajamas or gowns
- Use a damp washcloth to cool off your face and keep one handy at bedside
Menopause Symptoms: Sex Problems
Along with menopause, women experience lower levels of the hormone estrogen. One of the effects of lowered estrogen levels is a decrease in blood supply to the vagina, which causes vaginal dryness. This can result in painful or uncomfortable intercourse. Water-soluble lubricants can help overcome this problem. If lubricants are not effective, contact your doctor. Vaginal creams and suppositories can be prescribed to ease vaginal dryness.
Another effect of hormonal changes is a change in libido, or sex drive. This may improve or worsen, but it is important to remember that other factors besides menopause can affect libido. Stress, sleep disturbances, medications, and anxiety can all affect sex drive. Your doctor can help you find ways to manage the changes in your sex drive if they occur.
Finally, although fertility ends at menopause, women of all ages are still susceptible to STDs, so safe sex is still important.
- Analysed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, Medical Director
- Watch out for part 2 on Thursday 13th October, 2016 in our Health Education Segment