Menopause: everything you need to know
Roughly speaking, the term menopause refers to the cessation of spontaneous menstruation due to a natural and biological process.
A woman is considered to have “entered” menopause only when she has not had a period for at least 12 consecutive months.
At the origin of menopause is the endocrine inactivity of the ovaries and their inability to produce estrogen. This means that menopause also marks the end of a woman’s fertility period.
Learn more about this phase of a woman’s life cycle.
What is menopause?
In general, it is a gradual process, meaning that the activity of the ovaries decreases and eggs are no longer released as regularly. The levels of estrogen produced also decrease.
However, in some cases, menopause can occur more abruptly, usually resulting in more intense symptoms.
Usually, one of the first warning signs that menopause is “approaching” is that the woman has shorter menstrual cycles, followed by more irregular cycles, followed by cycles that are sometimes irregular and sometimes of varying length.
All of these circumstances can last for months or years, until the woman stops menstruating permanently.
As we have said, in most cases, menopause is a natural and biological process, associated with age and maturation of the woman.
However, we have also said that this stage of life can begin earlier or later and this aspect, yes, can be related to certain factors that may or may not precipitate the “arrival” of menopause.
Here are some points to consider.
Risk factors for early menopause
- Absence of Pregnancy;
- Continuous exposure to chemical and toxic agents;
- Continuous use of antidepressants;
- Treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy;
- Premature ovarian failure;
Risk factors for late menopause
- Occurrence of multiple pregnancies;
- High childhood IQ;
Before listing some of the most common symptoms of menopause, it is important to understand their origin.
The low production of estrogen, a characteristic of menopause that we have already discussed, disrupts the functioning of various organs and systems in the body.
Thus, vasomotor, psychological, and genitourinary disorders can be expected.
In this field, we can include the “famous hot flashes” or sweats which affect 60 to 80% of menopausal women.
They are generally more intense during the first years of menopause, and decrease in intensity after five years of menopause.
Women usually describe this symptom as a sudden, strong sensation of heat, mainly in the upper half of the body, followed by cold sweats.
This symptom may be associated with a rapid heart rate or dizziness, and these manifestations are not always predictable or controllable.
In general, menopause alters the quality of sleep for many women, with insomnia or night wakings becoming common.
The hormonal changes already described and associated with menopause can also cause atrophy of the vaginal mucosa, dryness, irritation and pain, especially during sexual intercourse. This is a delicate situation because it can weaken a woman’s self-esteem, reduce her libido and destabilize the harmony of the couple.
In addition, the loss of elasticity of the vaginal and urethral tissues can lead to small amounts of urine loss (or even incontinence) and more recurrent urinary tract infections.
Thus, we can, in a sense, divide the symptoms of menopause into two phases:
- Anterior phase (perimenopause), that is, before the woman “enters” the actual menopause;
- Later phase, in the short, medium and long term, during which the woman experiences the various effects that menopause causes in her body and organism.
Typical symptoms of perimenopause
If a woman has not had her period for at least three months, she should see a doctor who will order three blood tests (thyroid function, pituitary hormones, and estradiol) to decide whether or not to diagnose perimenopause. These are the symptoms:
- Irregular menstruation;
- Vaginal dryness;
- Hot flashes;
- Night sweats;
- Depression and anxiety;
- Forgetfulness or memory lapses;
- Hair loss;
- Mood swings;
- Weight gain;
- Dry skin.
Typical symptoms of menopause and post-menopause
- Increased risk of cardiovascular problems, stroke, retinal disease, glaucoma, breast and colon cancer;
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse due to increased vaginal dryness and, consequently, decreased libido;
- Urinary incontinence and infections;
- Weight gain;
- Thin and less elastic skin.
How to relieve the main symptoms of menopause?
The relief of symptoms associated with menopause can vary considerably from one woman to another, as the symptomatology presented by each woman can also differ significantly.
Thus, there are women who do not require any therapy to relieve the discomforts inherent in menopause, while others do not go without additional help to alleviate their symptoms.
In the latter case, to alleviate the effects of menopause, both pharmacological and nonpharmacological measures may be recommended, namely:
- Low-dose contraceptives: to alleviate hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings;
- Hormonal treatments (estrogen and/or progesterone) (generally not recommended for women over 60);
- Various medications that should be prescribed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the main discomforts presented by the woman (e.g., calcium and vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of osteoporosis, a matter that should be discussed with the physician) ;
- Positive lifestyle changes, including quality of diet;
- Regular physical activity;
- Avoid stress;