Understanding menopause

Menopause is a time of change, signifying the months or years during which a woman slowly stops ovulating and menstruating. It usually starts between the ages of 40 and 55 although premature menopause can affect women in their 20s. In up to 25 per cent of women there are few symptoms other than the cessation of menstrual periods. However, most women experience a range of symptoms associated with the hormonal changes of menopause. These symptoms can vary in degree from mild to very distressing.
 
They may include:
  • Vaginal dryness (sometimes resulting in painful sexual intercourse)
  • Hot flushes in which a disturbing sensation of prickly heat rushes through the body
  • Sweating
  • Palpitations
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Spotting between normal menstrual periods
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory lapses
  • Insomnia or changes in sleeping patterns
After menopause a women’s risk of conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis (bone thinning) and breast cancer increases and more regular medical examinations become necessary.
 

Treatment

 
Because most of the symptoms of menopause are related to decreased production of the female hormone oestrogen, treatment is often based on replacing oestrogen artificially. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been in use for many years and has both benefits and drawbacks. HRT helps to relieve the symptoms of menopause and decreases the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis (bone thinning), but it has been linked with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Discuss the options with your doctor.
 
Vaginal dryness can be combated with a vaginal lubricant and the emotional effects of menopause can be treated with prescription medication or herbal anti-depressants. Healthy eating and regular exercise will also contribute towards mental and physical well being during menopause and may help to reduce the symptoms. Regular exercise will also reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
 
In some women, menopause may bring with it a feeling of loss. It is important to realise that this new phase of womanhood brings with it new challenges and adventures. If you have lingering feelings of sadness, depression or apathy, consult your doctor.