The menopause, also known as the climacteric, is the time in most women’s lives when menstrual periods stop permanently, and they are no longer able to bear children. It happens between the mid-forties and mid-fifties when a woman hasn’t had a menstrual period for one year.
Usually bringing changes to the body, its symptoms are the result of your body decreasing the production of estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries. The most common symptoms are hot flashes, weight gain, or vaginal dryness. Menopause can also increase the risk for certain conditions later in life, like osteoporosis.
Here are eleven things every woman should know about menopause.
1. At what age does it start?
On average, women go into menopause at 51 years of age. The majority of women will stop having periods somewhere between the age of 45 and 55.
The early stages, however, can begin several years before in some cases, while others will continue having their periods into their late 50s.
The age of menopause is thought to be determined genetically, but being a smoker or having had chemotherapy can accelerate ovary decline, resulting in earlier menopause.
2. What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
Perimenopause is the period before menopause begins.
During perimenopause, the body begins to transition into menopause, with ovary hormone production starting to decline. A woman may begin experiencing some symptoms commonly associated with menopause, such as hot flashes and the menstrual cycle might become irregular.
Once the periods stop completely for 12 consecutive months, it means menopause has started.
3. What is a hot flash?
During a hot flash, the body temperature rises and the skin may even turn red or blotchy. This rush of heat could lead to sweating, heart palpitations, and feelings of dizziness. After the hot flash, you may feel cold.
These can be managed by avoiding triggers like spicy foods, caffeine, or alcohol. You can also talk to your doctor about medications that may help reduce the hot flash symptoms.
4. What symptoms are caused by the reduced levels of estrogen in the body?
About 75% of women experience hot flashes during menopause, making them the most common symptom. Hot flashes can occur day or night, with some women also experiencing muscle and joint pain, or mood swings.
It may be difficult to determine how much a role hormonal shifts play in these symptoms and how much is down to genetics or aging.
5. How does menopause affect the bone health?
A decline in estrogen production affects the amount of calcium in the bones, which can decrease bone density, leading to osteoporosis. It can also make one more susceptible to hip, spine, and other bone injuries.
To keep your bones healthy, try eating foods rich in calcium, such as dairy products or dark leafy greens, take vitamin D supplements and exercise regularly. It would also be advised to reduce alcohol and nicotine intake as much as possible.
6. Does it come with weight gain?
Changes in hormone levels combined with the effects of aging lead to weight gain in many women, but you can always counter this with a healthy diet and exercise.
7. Is heart disease linked to menopause?
Some women’s arteries become less flexible during the menopause, which affects blood flow, so they might experience heart conditions such as dizziness or cardiac palpitations.
By continuing to applying common sense in watching your weight and being careful about what you eat, exercising, and not smoking will greatly reduce this risk.
8. Will I experience the same symptoms as my mother, sister, or friends?
The symptoms of menopause vary from one person to another, even across members of the same family. How old you are when you start menopause, and how quickly ovary function is affected, differs a lot from person to person, so your case might be very different from that of your mother, sister or best friend.
To help you understand your symptoms and to find ways of managing them which will work with your lifestyle, consult your doctor.
9. How will I know if I am going through menopause if I’ve had my uterus removed?
If your uterus has been surgically removed through a hysterectomy, you may not actually know you’re going through menopause at all unless you experience hot flashes. If you aren’t experiencing any symptoms, a blood test can determine ovary function. That way, doctors can find out your estrogen level, which can tell you and your doctor whether or not you’re at risk of osteoporosis, or at least determine whether or not you need a bone density assessment.
10. Is hormone replacement a safe option for management of menopause?
Several hormone therapies can help with hot flashes and the prevention of bone loss. Benefits and risks vary depending on the severity of the hot flashes and bone loss, but also a person’s general health. Always consult your doctor before trying any hormone therapies.
11. Are there non-hormonal options?
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to counter the changes menopause brings, but there are also alternative treatments which you might find helpful such as herbal therapies, self-hypnosis and acupuncture.
Menopause is just another natural part of a woman’s life cycle. It’s a time when your estrogen and progesterone levels decrease and the risk for certain conditions like osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease may increase. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise, however, will go a long way in reducing those risks, avoiding unnecessary weight gain and will help with most symptoms.
If you experience symptoms that you have trouble managing and that affect your ability to function, you should always consult your doctor.