What is Menopause?
Menopause marks the event in a woman’s life during which she stops having menstrual periods. She no longer remains fertile and is unable to give birth. Menopause is a milestone in a woman’s life, which is as normal as puberty. It is as natural as the beginning of the menstrual cycle and shouldn’t be considered as a condition or a disease. Menopause is not considered to be a phase in a woman’s life. Rather, it is the end of the woman’s fertile window. It is marked by 12 consecutive months sans menstrual flow. Women are most likely to experience menopause in the age range of 45 to 55. Statistics point out that the average age of women having menopause is 51; however, some may experience menopause much, much earlier at the onset of her 40s and some might experience the same at a later age. Early menopause is often caused due to smoking, unhealthy lifestyle, etc.
What causes Menopause?
Menstruation is the monthly degeneration of the uterine lining which is developed due to the expectancy of conception. This happens when every month the eggs produced by the ovaries are left unfertilized. Women are born with approximately two million eggs and cannot produce any more in their lives. Even though that seems like a lot to exhaust in a lifetime, only a few hundred eggs are matured for not one but a good four reasons.
- 70% of those 2 million egg cells are lost prior by the time a woman starts to menstruate.
- On the onset of menstruation, most of the remaining eggs die in the process of degeneration and re-absorption during the pre-ovulation period.
- As a woman ages, the egg cells that have the potential to mature become resistant to the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (a hormone that stimulates the maturation of egg cells).
- The ovaries also reduce the production of estrogen which again acts towards the onset of menopause.
The extreme change in a woman’s body of growing out of the fertile period comes with many associated symptoms. Though some women experience menopause without any disagreeable add-ons, some find it extremely stressful to deal with the symptoms that come along with it.
These symptoms are mainly experienced in the pre-menopausal stage:
- Hormonal changes
Menopause is accompanied with extreme hormonal changes, the most prominent being the lowered production of the two hormones- estrogen and progesterone. The two hormones are the controlling agents of the following parts of the body:
- Reproductive System
- Urinary Tract
- Blood Vessels
- Mucous Membranes
- Pelvic Muscles
The estrogen and progesterone levels control and coordinate some of the functions of major parts of our body. The imbalance of these hormones leads to an imbalance of all these functions and result in certain accompanying symptoms that often menopause.
- Change in the menses
Both the quality and the quantity of menstrual flow change in the pre-menopause stage. A heavy bleeder might notice a lighter period and a light bleeder may experience a very heavy period. The duration of the period becomes shorter on the onset of menopause. Often, women complain of missing periods and also of having periods once in every 2 months. The irregularity often is a telling sign of menopause.
- A note: One must consult a doctor if experiencing the above situations because it might be a symptom of menopause but might also be a symptom of cancer.
It is not considered menopause if one has not had consecutive 12 months without menstrual flow; however, women often experience spotting or a sudden menstrual flow after having no periods for 12 consecutive months. This is not likely, however, it is not unattested. Women having certain conditions like thyroid, cysts, increase in prolactin, etc. often experience such issues. Hence it is advisable to seek medical advice.
- Hot flashes
Experiencing hot flashes is the most common symptom of menopause. It is a sensation of extreme warmth surging through the body lasting for 30 seconds to a few minutes. Clammy palm, flushed and sweaty skin often accompany hot flashes. The intensity of a hot flash ranges from mild to extremely strong, which might lead to waking up in the middle of the night. Women often experience hot flashes from the pre-menopause till 3 years after menopause. It may persist till 5 to 15 years post-menopause. Extreme frequency of hot flashes may disrupt daily life, which then requires medical attention.
- Vaginal dryness and atrophy
Menopause is accompanied by hormonal changes. Oestrogen and progesterone control the functions of the mucous membrane. Lowered levels of the two hormones lead to less mucus production which results in a dry vagina. A dry vagina sometimes has outcomes like itching, burning, sting sensation, etc. The walls of the vagina often suffer thinning along with inflammation which leads to painful intercourse experience. It often leads to shrinking of the vagina. This can be avoided through sex and sexual activities that involve the stimulation of female genitals. Even then, if the dryness and itch persist, one should visit the doctor.
- Inconsistent urination and UTIs
Due to the low levels of the sex hormones, the urethra and the urinary bladder lose their elasticity which leads to inconsistent and often painful urination. Women tend to lose control over their bladder. It is advised to partake in sports like swimming, cycling or any other physical activity that involves the use of the pelvic floor muscles which help in controlling the bladder problem. It is advised also to abstain from alcohol to avoid frequent urination. Every so often women complain of experiencing Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) prior to or after menopause. Mucus membranes maintain the pH level of the entire genital area protecting it from any infection. Since the quantity and quality of mucus changes after menopause due to lowered sex hormones, the genital area becomes more susceptible to UTIs.
- Decreased Sex Drive
Due to the hormonal imbalance, dryness and atrophy of the vagina and painful intercourse experience, the sex drive decreases, but that is not the only reason. Decreased libido is a physiological condition some women experience without suffering from any of the above. This is an effect of the bodily changes brought about by lowered hormones. The changes include slow or absent clitoral response, delayed clitoral reaction time, no orgasm, etc.
- Effects on skin, hair, bones, breasts, and body
Menopause not only comes with all the above-said issues, but it also brings about certain changes like early aging, thinning of the skin, decay of hair shafts. Collagen formation, attributed to sex hormones, is often decreased leading to thinner and drier hair and skin. Calcium deficit is also a result of reduced estrogen and progesterone which results in bone weakening. Breasts tend to sag due to loss of elasticity. The body, in general, weakens after menopause and becomes susceptible to weight gain.
Menopause is often accompanied by disrupted and irregular sleep. It becomes exceedingly difficult for women to fall asleep or stay asleep even after menopause. Doctors advise indulging in physical activities and exercises that would exhaust the body so much so that you are out once you hit the bed. Reading, listening to music, bathing, etc. are considered helpful for a good night’s sleep.
- Anxiety, depression, mood swings, and mental health
Even though mental health is a very important part of one’s life, it is barely talked about in the context of menopause. Menopause might just be a simplistic phenomenon considered by the masses, even by women experiencing it but it has a lot of impact on one’s mental health. Increasing anxiety and depression due to all the other unwanted effects of menopause is experienced by almost every woman. Extreme changes in emotions are often reported by women going through menopause. All the physical issues that accompany menopause affect the mental health of women. Studies show that women suffer from insecurity, identity crisis, body-image crisis after the onset of menopause due to the physical changes that accompany it.
How to delay menopause?
Menopause is inevitable but can be delayed naturally. The following are the tips and tricks to delay the onset of menopause:
- Intake of the following is said to delay menopause:
- Low-fat dairy
- Organic food
- Smoothies made of carrot, beetroot and spinach/kale
- Green tea
- Yoga and meditation
A healthy and happy living also contributes to delay in menopause and helps in coping with its side effects.
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