What is Menopause?
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual period starts occurring at longer or irregular intervals, often with less menstrual flow. This is due to a gradual decrease in the levels of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Eventually, the menstrual period stops altogether. A woman is said to be in menopause when her period has stopped for more than a year. The time leading up to menopause is known as perimenopause, and the time after menopause is complete is known as postmenopause. Many physiological and psychological changes occur in the body, and this is a time of both physical and emotional adjustment in a woman’s life.
Normally, women go through menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. Certain circumstances may bring about early menopause or premature menopause, such as after surgical removal of both the ovaries, which is often done during a hysterectomy (uterus removal) operation. This is known as surgical menopause. Early menopause may also occur due to chemotherapy or anti-estrogen therapy for breast cancer, or due to premature ovarian failure. In such cases the symptoms come on suddenly and may be more severe than in normal menopause due to aging. Once menopause occurs, a woman can no longer fall pregnant.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
The symptoms of menopause occur due to fluctuating hormone levels in a woman’s body around that time. This is mainly due to the fact that with age, the ovaries gradually produces less estrogen and progesterone. Menopause symptoms may continue over several years before finally disappearing. However, some women may experience few or no symptoms at all.
The common signs and symptoms are :
- Irregular vaginal bleeding – the periods may come less frequently, with longer intervals in between periods, which may even stretch to a few months. Sometimes, the periods may come at shorter intervals.
- Menstrual flow usually becomes less, but heavy periods may occur. The menstrual flow eventually stops altogether.
- Fertility may decrease around this time but the possibility falling pregnant remains until true menopause occurs, which is the absence of periods for more than a year.
- Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of menopause. It is a sudden feeling of warmth over the upper body and face, and may be accompanied by flushing of the skin. Hot flashes may last from 30 seconds to a few minutes and may be followed by sweating. Hot flashes can come any time of the day or night. Although not harmful, they can be distressing, especially when they come several times during the day or night.
- Night sweats may be troublesome in some women.
- Hot flashes and night sweats often lead to sleep disturbances during menopause.
- Mood swings, irritability.
- Decreased interest in sex.
- Vaginal dryness, itching, or irritation.
- Dyspareunia or painful sexual intercourse, mainly due to vaginal dryness.
Certain health risks and other features may also develop :
- Increased risk of vaginal infections.
- Urinary problems, such as frequency and incontinence, especially stress incontinence.
- Increased risk of urinary tract infections.
- Joint pain.
- Changes in consistency and shape of the breast.
- Weight gain, with distribution of body fat around the waist and abdomen.
- Thinning of the skin and development of wrinkles.
- Thinning of hair.
- Some women may have hair growth on the chin, upper lip, chest, or abdomen.
- Decreased estrogen levels can cause bone loss which leads to osteoporosis.
- Postmenopausal women are more at risk of heart disease and stroke.