Menopause has been defined as the normal condition that all women above the age of 40 experience. It is the absence of a menstrual period for a year and can be used to describe any changes that a woman undergoes before and after she stops menstruating. Perimenopause, Menopause and postmenopause are the three phases that mark the end of a woman’s reproductive period.
What causes Menopause?
A female is born with a definite number of eggs that are stored in the ovaries. The ovaries are also responsible for the production of hormones estrogen and progesterone that controls menstruation and ovulation. Menopause is the stage when ovaries cease to release an egg each month and there is a definite fluctuation in the levels of estrogen in the body. The stopping of menstruation is a normal part of the ageing process. But if this phenomenon occurs prematurely, i.e before the age of 40, it is called premature menopause. This can happen as a result of surgery such as hysterectomy, any kind of severe damage to the ovaries caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
Various phases of menopause
The period before menopause is called perimenopause and is the first stage in this process. It can sometimes start 8-10 years before the onset of menopause. This phase is marked by a gradual decrease in estrogen levels. This stage lasts until the onset of menopause.
If a woman has not experienced menstruation for a year, it is considered as menopause. By this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and making estrogen.
Post Menopause is the years after menopause. As the years pass various symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes subsides. But, the health risks caused by low estrogen levels are to be considered.
Symptoms that indicate the starting of menopause
The symptoms differ from one person to another and are highly dependent on body types. However, a few common symptoms are:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary urgency
- Sleeping difficulty
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
Some may also experience breast tenderness, worsening of premenstrual syndrome, irregular periods or skipped periods, especially during the transition phase. Some may also experience racing heart, headaches, joint and muscle pains, memory lapses, weight gain or even hair loss.
Not all women face all the above-mentioned symptoms by those who face severe symptoms such as urinary changes, persistent headaches or racing heart should contact their doctors for managing these symptoms. Gynaecologists can help with medications to manage severe hot flashes, joint pain, muscle aches etc. Low estrogen levels also cause incomplete absorption of calcium making the bones weak. So doctors can and do prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements for those in menopause.
A healthy lifestyle, weight management and regular interaction with your gynaecologist can help you manage the severe symptoms of Menopause with ease and make life smoother for you.