Menopause is the time in life when your monthly period stops. In other words, it is the permanently end of your menstrual cycles. It is diagnosed, when you have not had a period for one year. Menopause happens because the function of your ovaries stops. As a result, no hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are produced by your ovaries, which control your period and the release of eggs.
Menopause is a natural biological process. It usually begins between the ages of 40 and 55, but can develop before or after this age range. There is no reliable lab test to predict when a woman will experience menopause.
Furthermore, menopause is not a health problem. However, hormonal changes and other factors can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flashes and weight gain.
Stages of Menopause
Did you know that, natural menopause is not just one phase, it is actually divided into three stages:
Stage 1- Perimenopause : This phase usually begins several years before menopause, when your ovaries slowly make less estrogen. In the last 1 to 2 years of this stage, the estrogen levels fall faster. Moreover, perimenopause can start up to 10 years before you enter menopause. It often begins in your 40s, but some women enter perimenopause in their 30s.
During perimenopause, your period may become more unpredictable. It may even stop for several months and resume. It’s important to note that you can become pregnant during perimenopause by taking medicines directed by your doctor.
Stage 2- Menopause: The definition of menopause is not having your period for 12 months. At this stage, your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.
Stage 3- Postmenopause refers to the years after menopause has occurred. In other words, postmenopause refers to women who have already reached menopause.
As you enter postmenopause, it’s a good time to reevaluate your health situation and talk to your doctor about long-term health goals. Because, your lower level of estrogen due to postmenopause, puts you at increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and other conditions of the heart and bones.
Causes of Menopause
A woman is born with all of her eggs, which are stored in her ovaries. Her ovaries also make the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone, which control her period (menstruation) and the release of eggs (ovulation). Menopause happens when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month and menstruation stops.
Age is the most common factor that cause menopause. As you approach your late 30s, your ovaries starts loosing their ability to produce hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Hence, your fertility declines.
In your 40s, your monthly periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and less frequent. By the age of 52, the function of your ovaries stops. As a result, no hormones are produced and no egg is released by your ovaries, and you have no more periods.
However, some women can go through menopause in early age. It can be the result of surgery, like if their ovaries are removed in a hysterectomy, or damage to their ovaries from chemotherapy for cancer.
What are the symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life at which she can no longer reproduce. Symptoms of menopause vary from woman to woman. However,common symptoms of menopause include:
- Sleep Disturbances: You may have insomnia— trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Vaginal changes: The lining of your vagina may become thinner, drier, or less stretchy. This can cause dryness or discomfort during sex.
- Weaker bones: Your bones will probably weaken during menopause. If it’s really bad, it can lead to osteoporosis after menopause.
- Mood changes: Hormone changes can make you feel anxious, irritable, and tired. Your sex drive might change, too.
- Night sweats: Hot flashes that wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Hot Flashes: A hot flash is a sudden, sometimes intense feeling of heat that rushes to your face and upper body.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs): You may have to pee more often or get more frequent urinary tract or bladder infections.
- Weight gain: Hormonal changes that occur during menopause often contribute to weight gain. Many studies have confirmed that women in menopause are likely to gain weight and have larger midsections than women who have not gone through menopause.
- Memory problems
- Reduced sex drive
- Dry skin, mouth, and eyes
- Sore or tender breasts
- Racing heart
- Reduced muscle mass
- Hair thinning or loss
- Increased hair growth on other areas of the body, such as the face, neck, chest, and upper back
Please note, women affected with symptoms of racing heart, urinary changes, headaches, or other new medical problems should see a doctor to make sure there is no other cause for these symptoms
How is Menopause diagnosed?
A blood test known as PicoAMH Elisa diagnostic was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This test is used to determine whether a woman has entered menopause or is getting close to entering menopause. The test measures the amount of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) in the blood.
AMH is a hormone produced by a woman’s ovaries that has a role in egg release (ovulation). AMH levels fall as menopause approaches and is one of several indicators.
Furthermore, this test may be helpful to women who show symptoms of perimenopause, which can also have bad health impacts. Early menopause (before the age 45) is associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, vaginal changes and loss of libido, and mood changes.
Kindly note, your doctor can also order another blood test that will measure the level of certain hormones in the blood, usually follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. However, this test can be misleading during the beginning of menopause, because, your hormone levels are fluctuating up and down daily.
Therefore, most doctors will diagnose menopause based on your symptoms, medical history, and menstrual information.
Many women do not need treatment for their menopause symptoms. You may find that your symptoms go away by themselves. However, you may need treatment if your symptoms are severe or affecting your quality of life. Treatments may include:
- Hormone therapy (HT): This therapy helps to control your symptoms of menopause (such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness). In Hormone therapy, the balance of your body’s hormone levels is maintained by providing supplemental hormones (estrogen and progesterone).
However, using HT may increase the risk of developing certain diseases and health conditions. A person should not use hormone therapy if they have risk factors for the following health problems, or if they have a personal or family history of these issues:
- heart disease
- blood clots
- gallbladder disease
- liver disease
- breast cancer
Furthermore, hormone therapy is available in various forms, including, oral (pill), skin patch and spray. But, it is important to discuss the benefits and risks of hormone therapy with your doctor before using it.
- Vaginal estrogen: To relieve vaginal dryness, estrogen can be applied directly to the vagina using a vaginal cream or tablet. This treatment releases just a small amount of estrogen, which is absorbed by the vaginal tissues. It can help relieve vaginal dryness.
- Low dose of antidepressants: A low dose of certain antidepressants may be useful for management of hot flashes in menopause.
- Medications for osteoporosis: Depending on individual needs, doctors may recommend medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis (a bone disease).
Several medications are available that help to reduce bone loss and risk of fractures. Your doctor may prescribe vitamin D supplements to help strengthen bones.
- Low dose of birth control pills: Oral contraceptive pills are another form of hormone therapy often prescribed for women in perimenopause, to treat irregular vaginal bleeding, relieve hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood changes.
Oral contraceptive are not recommended for women who have already reached menopause.
Kindly note, before deciding any form of treatment, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits involved with each option of treatment. Review your options yearly, as your needs and treatment options may change.
Natural treatments for Menopause symptoms:
- Soy: Soy has isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens (plant estrogens). Some studies have observed that soy may be effective in reducing menopausal symptoms. However, other studies have found no benefit. Only food forms of soy, like tofu and soy milk, are recommended. Soy in tablet or powder form is not advised.
Moreover, many experts recommend that women who have a history of breast cancer avoid phytoestrogens.
- Vitamin E: Topical vitamin E oil applied to the vagina helps to improve lubrication and may also reduce hot flashes.
- Calcium and Vitamin D: Take calcium and vitamin D supplements to help reduce your risk for osteoporosis (a bone disease). Talk to your doctor about supplements that can help you for your individual health needs.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseed has omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, which act as phytoestrogens. Results from studies have been mixed, but it may help to reduce menopause symptoms in some women.
Avoid whole flaxseed because it is difficult to digest.
- Exercises: It is important to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
Exercise can help:
- increase energy
- promote a better night’s sleep
- improve mood
- promote your general well-being
Lifestyle tips for Menopause
Tips for managing the symptoms of menopause include:
- Practicing relaxation and deep breathing exercises.
- Having a healthful diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Quitting smoking.
- Limiting the intake of alcohol.
- Good sleeping habits and getting plenty of rest.
- It is important to do regular exercise for managing the symptoms of menopause.