Facing Menopause and Managing Its Effects
While it’s a normal and natural event in every woman’s life, menopause is still sometimes misunderstood. The changes it brings to one’s health are even occasionally perceived as an illness or disorder without better knowledge of the signs and factors surrounding it. The following outlines the medical definition of menopause, common symptoms, and ways to gain some relief.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life (around the age of 50) when she stops having a menstrual period for a span of approximately one year. It is caused by reduced function of the ovaries, which eventually leads to the cessation of estrogen production and, ultimately, the end of a woman’s fertility.
Often during their mid-40s, women will enter the stage of perimenopause, which is marked by fluctuating hormone levels and may last for several years until the final period. Women will likely begin experiencing several symptoms of full menopause, as outlined in the following section.
There are many physical and emotional symptoms associated with the arrival of menopause. Below are some of the more prevalent symptoms.
- Hot flashes: This is the most common symptom of menopause, occurring in up to 75% of perimenopausal women. Usually, a hot flash is a sudden feeling of warmth over the body that lasts from several seconds to a few minutes, and often is accompanied by an increased pulse rate. Hot flashes typically last up to 3 years.
- Mood swings: Another common symptom, mood swings can take an emotional toll on a woman during menopause and even on her loved ones. These swings can be instantaneous and severe—one moment a woman can be upbeat and happy, and the next minute feel suddenly depressed.
- Fatigue: The menopausal years are frequently marked by a constant feeling of tiredness and a lack of energy. Not surprisingly, this can have a major impact on work productivity, personal relationships, and regular lifestyle routines.
- Vaginal dryness: When estrogen levels drop during menopause, the lining of the vagina becomes drier and less flexible. This lack of natural lubrication can lead to itching, irritation, discomfort during sex, and increased risk for infection.
- Weight gain: Hormonal changes during menopause can result in some weight gain, especially around the waist, and fat redistribution as well. In addition, these hormonal imbalances can lead to a lower metabolism rate and reduced calorie needs; women who maintain their daily calorie intake before menopause can gain weight.
- Lapses in memory and concentration: Low levels of estrogen, combined with stress, can frequently lead to forgetfulness, mental blocks, and difficulty in maintaining concentration on tasks.
- Sleep problems: Menopause can be the culprit for various sleep disorders. Women going through menopause often find that they have trouble falling asleep, are waking up repeatedly during the night, or toss and turn frequently.
- Bone loss: Bone loss is common during the perimenopausal stage. While there is rarely any pain, bone loss can cause osteoporosis and increase the risk of bone fractures.
- Hair loss: Estrogen deficiency during menopause can result in loss of hair as well as drier and more brittle hair.
- Irregular heartbeat: Women in menopause can experience episodes of rapid heartbeat and palpitations. The cause can be traced to low levels of estrogen, which can lead to over-stimulation of the nervous and circulatory systems
Coping and management
Every woman will experience a different range and level of severity in symptoms. Accordingly, the first and best step to help alleviate the pain and stress of menopause is to consult your physician to formulate a broad plan of treatment for symptoms. However, there are some effective strategies and actions to keep in mind that can help you prepare for and lessen the effect of some symptoms.
- Keep cold drinking water nearby as often as possible.
- In cooler weather, wear several thin layers of clothing rather than one thick layer so that you can remove a layer or two if you begin to warm up.
- Avoid synthetic fibers in clothing and bedsheets—these lack the breathability of cotton and other natural fibers.
- Eat smaller, lighter meals with more fruit and vegetables and less fat.
- Try to get at least seven hours of sleep at night.
- Avoid taking on too many duties at one time.
- Join a nearby or online support group—there are many other women around you who are having similar experiences.
- Talk to your doctor to see if menopausal hormone therapy may be an option for you.
- Talk to your doctor about mood medications—often anti-depressants—as taking these for a short period of time will provide substantial relief for mood swings and other symptoms related to menopause.
- Vaginal moisturizers are readily available and can be used several times a week as part of a regular regimen for women, regardless of whether or not they are experiencing dryness due to menopause.
- Vitamin E oil is also effective—capsules that are normally taken orally can be punctured or cut to release the oil, which can then be applied to the vaginal area.
- Talk to your doctor about topical hormone medications—applied locally in the vagina, these have fewer side effects than oral hormone therapy.
- Maintain healthy lifestyle habits—eat healthful meals, get regular sleep, exercise and avoid smoking.
- Keep up with your social interactions and stay involved in activities and hobbies you enjoy.
- Increase your mental activity—do puzzles and games, learn a new skill, or take a class.
- Exercise more regularly.
- Avoid eating, drinking alcohol, or smoking before bed.
- Limit time spent looking at TV, phone, or computer screens near bedtime.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Use gentler, natural shampoos made without harsh chemicals.
- Wash and dry your hair less frequently.
- Stay away from salon treatments that require chemical agents, such as perms or straightening.
Making to the other side
Although menopause is an expected and healthy milestone in a woman’s life, it is still an occasion that understandably causes alarm and anxiety. The good news is that there is a multitude of treatments, therapies, and emotional support that is geared specifically to help women navigate their menopausal years. In fact, many women report that, after menopause, they feel more energized and confident than ever before. Menopause may be an unsettling phase, but it will eventually end, and give way to a new, more stable stage in life.