Menopause, for women, is inevitable. But, at what age does it usually start? How will you know it is menopause and not a medical condition which should be a cause for concern?
In a survey conducted in the US, the average age women may experience menopause is around 51 years old. But it may occur as early as 48 or as late as 55. Then, there is the case of premature menopause. This is what happens to women who started showing signs of menopause before they turn 40. Around one percent of women suffer from this.
What causes premature menopause? Certain conditions such as ovarian failure or cancer can trigger this condition. Menopause can also occur a little earlier for women who smoke a lot, who live in areas that have high altitudes, or to those who have never conceived.
There are different stages of menopause. It is quite difficult to determine when is the exact time your menopause starts. The changes in hormones that are associated with menopause begin way before the last menstrual period. It occurs in a three to a five-year time frame, also known as perimenopause. At this point, women experience menopausal symptoms but still have their monthly periods.
When your estrogen and hormone levels start its decline, you experience some of the following symptoms:
o Hot Flashes
This is probably the most tell-tale sign that you are to bid your monthly visitors adieu. A hot flash is a sudden surge of heat sensation in the upper part of the body. This can last for up to 10 seconds or 10 minutes. On average, hot flashes typically lasts for four minutes. It begins in the face, neck, or chest. The skin sometimes appears red and patchy. After a while, sweating may occur.
What can you do? Knowing what triggers the attacks is important. Factors like alcohol drinking, consuming caffeinated products or spicy foods, smoking, wearing tight clothes, or simply bending over can jumpstart hot flashes. Sip ice water when an attack is about to start and keep cold packs by your side at all times. Estrogen therapy can be used if the attacks are too frequent or severe. Nonhormonal options include Gabapentin and some anti-depressants.
o Sleep Disturbances
Women suffering from menopause find it hard to catch some sleep or stay asleep. For some, night sweats occur. This discomfort is brought upon by hot flashes during the night.
What can you do? Try exercising and breathing exercises. If this does not work, go to an acupuncturist or treat yourself to a Shiatsu massage.
o Mood changes that lead to irritability, anxiety, and depression
Women have a high tendency to get lonely and depressed during menopausal period. This is because the changes in hormones can mimic depressed feelings and mood swings. A drop in estrogen is considered to affect how the body manages serotonin or the get happy hormone. These symptoms are also the primary cause of sleep disturbances.
What can you do? If you find it to difficult to handle your emotions, going through counseling will help terminate the issue. Of course, anti-depressants and hormone therapy are recognized treatments. Lifestyle change such as exercising, getting enough sleep, and dieting will also help.
o Vaginal dryness
Dryness, itching, and discomfort of the vagina are dominant during the perimenopause phase. Due to this, many women experience pain while having intercourse. This is another effect of lower estrogen levels. Along with it, vaginal atrophy may occur. It is the inflammation of the vagina when the tissues have shrunk, lubrication has decreased, and the lining of the walls have thinned out.
What can you do? There is topical estrogen therapy that can serve as a substitute to the depleting ones. The comes in a cream that can be applied daily for two weeks and cut down to one to three times per week after that.
o Urinary issues
When women begin to experience menopausal phase, they become more prone to urinary tract infections like cystitis. Apart from that, they experience increased frequency in need to urinate. The primary reason for this is urogenital atrophy. The urinary tract and vagina deteriorate leading to the loss of ability to control urination. Another factor is the lack of estrogen.
What can you do? Changes in diet, strengthening exercises, and topical estrogen can ease things up. If this is not enough, surgery is a possible option.
o Cognitive impairment
Most women find it hard to focus; this can lead to decreased ability to concentrate and learn. Some even suffer from memory losses. Hormones are most likely the culprit for the brain fog.
What can you do? Hormone replacement therapy might help, but there are no proven effects as of now.
Some of the lesser known symptoms of menopause include:
o Obesity since the buildup of fat in the abdomen may sometimes occur.
o Hair loss and thinning of hair.
o Smaller breast size.
What happens during the menopausal period?
Menopause is also linked to many complications. Most women find that their menopause must have led to complications like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, and breast cancer.
You know you have entered your menopausal period when you have missed each and every one of them for the past year. Every woman is different, and so you cannot expect the flow to be the same with someone else’s.
Comes the post-menopause phase…
Usually, the transition from perimenopause all the way to post-menopause period takes one to three years. Some symptoms that have started during perimenopause (those mentioned above) can still be experienced. Without treatment, symptoms may come and go for even up to five years.
However, if a condition gets aggravated and chronic, do seek medical help. They may recommend replacement therapy or prescribe medications that can help pacify the symptoms. There are also natural supplements like black cohosh, plant estrogens, and other herbals like primrose oil that offer relief from the problems associated with menopause.