While menopause is a normal part of aging for women that occurs between the ages 45 and 55 years, not all women know what to expect when their ovaries stop producing eggs and the menstrual cycles dwindle, eventually coming to a complete halt.
The medical definition for menopause is when a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. During this transition, there is reduced production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which is what causes the periods to become increasingly irregular until they stop, resulting in multiple physical and psychological symptoms in women.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of menopause usually appear in the perimenopause phase, which is several years before you reach menopause. Different women experience different symptoms, and to varying degrees. That said, there are some that are more common among many women, indicating the approach of menopause and beyond. These include:
- Hot flashes – about 75 percent of women have reported an increase in temperature due to changes in estrogen level. It usually leads to sweating.
- Mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and occasional memory loss – some women occasionally find it hard to concentrate or remember things, which may cause reduced self-esteem or depression.
- Mild incontinence – some women experience reduced bladder control during peri-menopause and beyond, leading to minor cases of urine leakage, like when sneezing or laughing.
- Changes to appearance – decreasing levels of estrogen hormone lead to increased wrinkling and other physical changes, such as thinning hair, loss of breast fullness, and increased abdominal fat.
- Sexual changes – lower estrogen can also caused reduced vaginal lubrication or dryness, which may cause painful intercourse. Additionally, reduced blood flow to your sexual organs may cause lower sensitivity.
- Sleep disturbances – around 40 percent of women have reported different types of sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, or difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Irregular periods – changes to your menstrual cycles typically occur before completely stopping. They may become shorter, longer, lighter, or heavier.
- Fatigue or joint pain.
Some women may also experience chronic medical changes due to the changes in their bodies. Possible menopause-related complications include weight gain, cardiovascular disease, incontinence, and osteoporosis.
Treating the Symptoms
Women who have reached menopause usually experience more severe symptoms than those approaching it (perimenopause), usually due to the complete lack of estrogen. Some of the symptoms can be managed by replacing the missing estrogen, but the symptoms should resume once you stop taking the drugs.
The simplest way to manage the symptoms is by staying in good health. This entails:
- Regular exercising – 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity
- Healthy eating habits – take a balanced diet that is rich in calcium and vitamin D, and avoid sugars, oils, and saturated fats.
- Getting enough sleep – exercise, avoid caffeine, and use relaxation techniques.
- Lifestyle changes – stop smoking.
Maintaining a varied diet is particularly important after menopause. Consume whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Dairy products are good for calcium, while 20 minutes of sunlight should provide you with vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium.