Menopause marks the end of the reproductive years of a female. It is a normal process in which hormonal and physiological changes are involved. Knowing what to expect will ease the transition.
Everyone experiences menopause differently. This can be a difficult time for some, especially if hormonal changes lead to symptoms like hot flashes and anxiety. When they no longer need to worry about menstruation and birth control, others view it as a moment of liberation.
To help a person understand the process more, here are 10 basic menopause facts.
Menopause is not sudden
For most individuals, menopause does not abruptly occur. It is a process, and not a separate point in time.
Oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to fall during a person’s 30s or 40s, and perimenopause starts. When they stop entirely, intervals can become less frequent.
Usually, menopause begins 12 months after the last period. According to the North American Menopause Culture, this is usually between the ages of 40–58, and the average is 51 years. Usually hot flashes last from 6 months to 2 years, but they can extend for 10 years or longer.
If a person has surgery to remove his or her ovaries, menopause starts almost instantly.
Some medical treatments can cause menopause, such as chemotherapy. This is temporary in some situations, and menstruation begins again at some stage after the completion of treatment.
Some medical conditions can cause menopause to start at a younger age as well.
How do you recognize menopause? Here, find out.
Perimenopause can start in the 30s
The period prior to menopause is perimenopause. It can last between 4 and 8 years. Oestrogen and progesterone levels steadily decrease during perimenopause.
Menstruation is less frequent, and menopausal symptoms may start to appear.
- hot flashes and night sweats
- vaginal dryness
Anyone who has symptom issues should see a physician to ensure if they are not due to a health problem, such as an overactive thyroid.
A missed period may be a sign of either pregnancy or menopause when a person is in their 40s.
Most people experience symptoms
Menopause is not a disease, but symptoms may be triggered by the hormonal changes that arise.
This can vary from mild to extreme, leading to discomfort and pain in some cases. Treatment may help with symptom control.
Symptoms that are common include:
Hot flashes: Up to 75% of people are affected by intense feelings of heat in the upper body.
Sweats at night: These are hot flashes that occur during the night.
Sleeping difficulty: It can make it difficult to sleep with night sweats, mood swings, and anxiety.
Vaginal dryness: As a consequence, sex can be painful.
Reduced libido: As hormone levels decrease, sexual appetite can drop, but vaginal dryness can make sex painful as well.
Changes in mood: Fluctuating levels of hormones and environmental factors can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.
Hormonal changes can lead to osteoporosis as well. Their bone density decreases when an individual has osteoporosis, and the bones are more likely to break. During and after menopause, the risk of osteoporosis increases.
Treatment is available
If symptoms impact the daily life of a person, medication can be prescribed by a doctor.
Hormone treatment: This by balancing hormones, can solve many problems. It may not, however be appropriate for those at risk of developing blood clots, stroke, breast cancer, dementia, and gallbladder disease. A physician can advise the person on their options.
Antidepressants: Low doses of paroxetine may help treat hot flashes.
Sexual well-being: Vaginal dryness can be resolved using lubricants. If lubricants and natural remedies do not function, vaginal hormones may be administered as a ring, cream or tablet by a doctor to be applied directly to the vagina.
Preventing osteoporosis: In order to track bone strength, a doctor may prescribe routine bone density tests. The doctor can prescribe vitamin D supplements and make recommendations about diet and exercise to reduce the risk of osteoporosis if results show that the bones are getting weaker.
Mood changes, anxiety and depression: Hormone treatment may help, or a doctor can prescribe medication. Counseling and relaxation can assist with stress and depression management. Some individuals find aromatherapy helpful.
Sleep problems: At this time multiple factors may contribute to sleep problems. It can be beneficial to get enough exercise, reduce alcohol and coffee intake, and maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
Menopause and sex
Some individuals are worried that menopause means that they will be less desirable or unable to experience a full sex life. It does however, offer sex a fresh sense, as the need to worry about menstruation and pregnancy decreases.
Tips for maintaining a sex life that is active include:
- asking a healthcare provider about lubricants and other ways to reduce vaginal dryness
- exercising and following a healthful diet to keep the body fit and well
- spending intimate time together in non-sexual ways, such as a regular date night
- exploring new ways of arousal with a partner
A person’s partner may also encounter sex ambiguity. Open contact will help all individuals conquer this challenge.
Joining a local club, going on a single holiday, or using a dating site could be choices for those who are single.
The body still produces hormones
After menopause, the body does not stop processing estrogen. In various vital functions, estrogen plays a part, and the body still requires some estrogen, but in smaller quantities.
Estrogen will not come from the ovaries anymore, though. Instead, hormones called androgens are formed by the adrenal glands, and aromatase, which is another hormone, transforms them into estrogen.
Why does the body need estrogen? Find out here.
Menopause and weight gain
Most individuals experience some weight gain during menopause, according to a 2017 study, but those who were not overweight before entering menopause can typically handle this with lifestyle interventions.
The Office for Women’s Health states that after menopause, many people earn an average of 5 pounds.
Reasons for weight gain may include:
- increased hunger due to changes in the hormones that control hunger
- changes to metabolism, due to hormonal factors
- eating less healthfully
- being less active
- other factors relating to midlife
Anyone who has weight gain issues should talk about acceptable solutions with a dietitian or doctor, which will likely include food and exercise choices. In the long-term, avoiding extra weight will help minimize the likelihood of different health conditions.
Hot flashes and other symptoms are more likely to be seen in people who have obesity before or after menopause. Losing weight can help manage some of these difficulties for an individual.
Menopause and stress
Many people claim that during menopause, they have trouble concentrating and recalling items. Some call this “brain fog.” A major factor is tension.
Reasons for stress may include:
- the impact of physical changes
- domestic, professional, and other pressures
- concerns about aging
Ways of managing stress and thinking problems include:
- getting regular exercise
- joining a relaxation or yoga class
- keeping a diary on the kitchen wall with all upcoming events on it
- where possible, finding a balance between responsibilities and personal interests
- staying in touch with friends and family
- sharing with other people who are experiencing menopause
- seeking help if you are concerned about memory loss, anxiety, or depression
Pregnancy is still possible
Menopause signifies the end of the reproductive years of a woman, but at or after this period, it is still possible to become pregnant.
Perimenopause can begin 4 to 8 years prior to menopause. An individual may become pregnant as long as menstruation continues. However as a female reaches menopause, the odds of conceiving and having a full-term pregnancy decrease.
Advances in reproductive technology mean that it is still possible after menopause to become pregnant. This would generally be with donated eggs or embryos that were saved earlier in life by the individual.
There may be a higher risk of loss of pregnancy, preterm birth, and risks to the health of the mother, depending on the age and health status of the person at the time of conception.
As one specialist points out however, younger individuals who have not reached menopause may still encounter similar problems.
Menopause: A new beginning
Menopause affects the health and well-being of a person, but it is not a disease, and it does not mean that the body fails or that the individual gets old.
When a person is in their 30s or 40s, the hormonal changes that precede menopause begin. The average 50-year-old woman would expect to live to at least 83 years of age in 2017. Perimenopause begins less than halfway through the normal length of life.
As life expectancy grows and aging behaviors change, people are starting to see menopause as a new beginning rather than an end.