Being a woman can be quite the rollercoaster ride. Since puberty, you’ve been able to conceive a child. Your body went through massive changes and your emotions may have been all over the spectrum.
During pregnancy, a life grows inside of you and as a mother, you devote much of your time and energy to raising this life. Now, as a woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s, you’ll experience yet another change: menopause.
What many people don’t realize is that menopause is a very gradual process. You do not go from being a woman able to conceive to a woman unable to conceive in a matter of days. It can start as early as your 30’s and last into your 60’s.
Menopause is associated with several changes including hormonal, physiological and even psychological changes. Knowing what to expect can save you a lot of grief when your body starts to suddenly change and you don’t know why.
To call them symptoms makes it seem as though menopause is a disease. While it is certainly not a disease, it does carry with it several signs and symptoms that can be a bit unpleasant. Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Lowered fertility.
- Urinary frequency.
- Urinary incontinence.
- Increased incidence of urinary tract infections.
- Vaginal itching and burning.
- Decreased vaginal lubrication.
- Unpredictable periods.
- Night sweats.
- Inability to sleep through the night.
- Hair growth on your face, chest or abdomen.
- Weight gain.
- Thinning hair.
- Hot flashes.
- Decreased Memory.
What Causes Menopause to Start?
Menopause begins once the ovaries start to slow down estrogen production and you will be increasingly less likely to become pregnant. The first phase of menopause is called peri-menopause. It consists of the signs and symptoms of menopause even though you are still ovulating and can become pregnant. Your hormone levels rise and fall radically. The second phase occurs once you have not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. It is called postmenopause and you will live the rest of life in this phase.
What Can Trigger Premature Menopause?
While menopause is a completely natural process, it can be set off earlier than normal due to surgery or some medical treatments.
A hysterectomy that involves the removal of the uterus but not the ovaries will typically not cause menopause to start, but one that does involve the removal of the ovaries can cause menopause to kick into gear. There is no perimenopause in women who have this procedure. Instead, they’ll experience menopause symptoms and will cease to menstruate immediately. Women who have undergone radiation therapy as a part of their cancer treatment may also go through an early menopause
Medical Treatment Options
While menopause is not a condition to treat, per say, the symptoms it causes can be unpleasant and can be relieved with certain medical treatments. There are also many conditions that are more prevalent in postmenopausal women that can be treated as well.
- Low-dose anti-depressants have been shown to reduce hot flashes.
- Non-hormonal treatments such as Fosamax and Actonel that help to prevent osteoporosis and reduce bone loss.
- Local estrogen is sometimes applied to the vagina to help relieve dryness and some urinary tract problems associated with menopause.
- HT or hormone therapy is the most commonly used medication to treat the symptoms of menopause. While it can offer considerable relief for your menopause symptoms, the extra estrogen can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and even breast cancer.
There are many things you can do from the comfort of your own home to relieve the symptoms of menopause. They include:
- Just staying sexually active during menopause can help decrease the vaginal discomfort. The use of water-based lubricants can also help ease the dryness and irritation during intercourse and throughout the day.
- Eat a well-balanced diet filled with fruits, green, leafy vegetables, whole grains and plenty of calcium.
- Exercise regularly and wear layers to help zap those hot flashes.
- Avoid things that seem to bring on hot flashes such as really warm rooms, alcohol or hot foods.
- Get the best sleep you can by learning how to wind down at night with relaxation techniques like meditation.
- Practice Kegels everyday. These exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor and help to fend off urinary incontinence.
- See your doctor regularly. Having regularly scheduled check ups helps you feel secure in yourself and allows you to receive any medical treatment you may need as soon as you need it.
While the road in life women must walk on may be quite a bumpy one, it is one filled with changes and experiences that are truly remarkable. Only by understanding our bodies and the processes they go through can we truly appreciate the wonder that is woman.