Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. It usually occurs in the late 40s or early 50s and lasts for a few years. During this time, many women experience various physical and emotional changes, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability, and fatigue.
Menopause can also increase the risk of certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Therefore, it’s important to take care of your health and well-being during this transition.
In this article, we’ll provide you with the ultimate guide to menopause: what it is, what causes it, what are the common symptoms, how to diagnose it, and how to treat it with natural and conventional methods. We’ll also share some tips on how to cope with menopause and enjoy this new phase of life.
What is menopause?
Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months. It occurs when the ovaries stop producing eggs and hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. This causes the levels of these hormones to decline gradually over time.
The average age of menopause is 51 years old, but it can vary from person to person. Some women may enter menopause earlier or later than others due to genetic factors, medical conditions, or lifestyle choices.
Menopause is not a disease or a disorder; it’s a normal part of aging that every woman will go through at some point. However, it can affect your quality of life and your health in different ways.
What causes menopause?
Menopause is mainly caused by the natural decline of ovarian function and hormone production. However, there are some factors that can influence the timing and severity of menopause, such as:
- Smoking: Smoking can damage the ovaries and reduce the supply of eggs. It can also affect the blood vessels and decrease the blood flow to the ovaries. This can lead to earlier menopause and more severe symptoms.
- Surgery: Removing the ovaries (oophorectomy) or the uterus (hysterectomy) can cause surgical menopause. This means that you’ll stop having periods and enter menopause immediately after the surgery. You may also experience more intense symptoms due to the sudden drop in hormone levels.
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy: These treatments can damage the ovaries and affect their ability to produce hormones. This can result in premature menopause or temporary menopause. The effects may be reversible or permanent depending on the type and dose of therapy.
- Autoimmune diseases: Some diseases that affect the immune system, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, can cause inflammation and damage to the ovaries. This can interfere with their function and trigger early menopause.
- Chromosomal abnormalities: Some women are born with genetic conditions that affect their chromosomes, such as Turner syndrome or fragile X syndrome. These conditions can cause ovarian failure or insufficiency at a young age.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
The symptoms of menopause vary from woman to woman. They may start before your last period (perimenopause) and continue for several years after menopause (postmenopause). Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes: These are sudden feelings of heat that spread over your face, neck, chest, or whole body. They can last from a few seconds to several minutes and cause sweating, flushing, palpitations, or chills.
- Night sweats: These are hot flashes that occur at night and disrupt your sleep. They can make you feel uncomfortable, restless, or anxious.
- Vaginal dryness: This is a lack of moisture in your vagina that can cause itching, burning, irritation, or pain during sex. It can also increase your risk of infections or urinary problems.
- Mood changes: These are emotional fluctuations that can make you feel depressed, anxious, irritable, angry, or sad. They can also affect your memory, concentration, or motivation.
- Fatigue: This is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion that doesn’t improve with rest. It can affect your physical and mental performance and your ability to cope with stress.
- Insomnia: This is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night. It can be caused by hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, or other factors.
- Weight gain: This is an increase in body fat that tends to accumulate around your abdomen, waistline or hips. It can be caused by hormonal changes, reduced metabolism, decreased physical activity, or increased appetite.
- Low libido: This is a decrease in sexual desire or interest. It can be influenced by hormonal changes, vaginal dryness, psychological factors, or relationship issues.
- Urinary problems: These include urinary incontinence (leaking urine), urinary urgency (feeling the need to urinate frequently), or urinary tract infections (UTIs). They can be caused by the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and the thinning of the urethra due to low estrogen levels.
- Hair loss or thinning: This is a loss of hair density or volume on your scalp, face, or body. It can be caused by the decrease in estrogen and the increase in testosterone levels during menopause.
- Dry skin: This is a lack of moisture or oil in your skin that can cause flaking, itching, cracking, or wrinkling. It can be caused by the decline in estrogen and collagen production during menopause.
These symptoms can vary in frequency, intensity, and duration. They may also change over time as your body adjusts to the hormonal changes. Some women may have mild or no symptoms at all, while others may have severe or debilitating symptoms that affect their daily lives.
How is menopause diagnosed?
Menopause is usually diagnosed based on your signs and symptoms and your menstrual history. Your doctor may ask you about your periods, when they started, how often they occur, how long they last, and how heavy they are. They may also ask you about any changes in your periods or any other symptoms you may have.
Your doctor may also perform a physical exam and order some blood tests to check your hormone levels. These tests may include:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): This hormone stimulates the growth and maturation of the eggs in the ovaries. It increases as the ovarian function declines during menopause.
- Estradiol: This is the main form of estrogen produced by the ovaries. It decreases as the ovarian function declines during menopause.
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): This hormone regulates the production of thyroid hormones that affect your metabolism, energy, and mood. It can be affected by menopause and cause similar symptoms.
- Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH): This hormone reflects the number of eggs left in the ovaries. It decreases as the ovarian reserve diminishes during menopause.
These tests are not definitive and may not reflect your actual menopausal status. They may also vary depending on the time of day, the time of your menstrual cycle, or the use of hormonal medications. Therefore, they are usually used along with your signs and symptoms to confirm menopause.
How is menopause treated?
Menopause does not require any medical treatment unless your symptoms are bothersome or affect your quality of life. In that case, there are various options available to help you manage your symptoms and reduce your risk of health complications. These include:
- Hormone therapy (HT): This involves taking estrogen alone or with progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone) to replace the hormones that your ovaries no longer produce. HT can effectively relieve hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and other symptoms of menopause. It can also prevent bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures due to osteoporosis. However, HT also has some risks and side effects, such as increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer (if you take estrogen without progestin). Therefore, HT should be used at the lowest effective dose and for the shortest possible time under your doctor’s supervision.
- Non-hormonal medications: These include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anti-anxiety drugs and blood pressure medications. These can help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, and other symptoms of menopause by affecting the brain chemicals that regulate your body temperature, emotions, and blood vessels.
- Vaginal estrogen: This involves applying a small dose of estrogen directly to your vagina using a cream, tablet, or ring. This can help relieve vaginal dryness, itching, burning, and pain during sex. It can also prevent urinary problems such as infections or incontinence. Vaginal estrogen has fewer risks and side effects than systemic hormone therapy because it delivers a lower dose of estrogen to your bloodstream.
- Osteoporosis medications: These include bisphosphonates, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), denosumab, teriparatide, and romosozumab. These can help prevent or treat bone loss and fractures due to osteoporosis by slowing down bone breakdown, increasing bone formation, or mimicking the effects of estrogen on bone tissue.
- Natural remedies: These include dietary supplements, herbal products, and alternative therapies that may help ease some symptoms of menopause or improve your overall health and well-being. Some of the most common natural remedies for menopause are:
- Phytoestrogens: These are plant compounds that have similar effects to estrogen in your body. They may help balance your hormones and reduce hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and bone loss. However, the evidence for their effectiveness and safety is mixed and inconclusive. Some sources of phytoestrogens are soybeans, tofu, tempeh, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, lentils, beans, and certain fruits and vegetables.
- Black cohosh: This is a herb that may help relieve hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and sleep problems by acting on the serotonin receptors in your brain. However, the evidence for its effectiveness and safety is limited and inconsistent. Some studies have found that black cohosh may cause liver damage or interact with other medications.
- Flaxseed oil: This is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that may help improve your cardiovascular health, lower your cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and prevent blood clots. It may also help relieve hot flashes and vaginal dryness by modulating your hormone levels.
- Vitamin E: This is an antioxidant that may help protect your cells from oxidative stress and damage. It may also help reduce hot flashes and vaginal dryness by improving blood flow and lubrication.
- Yoga: This is a mind-body practice that involves physical poses, breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation techniques. It may help improve your physical fitness, flexibility, strength and balance. It may also help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia by promoting relaxation and mindfulness.
- Aerobic exercise: This is any physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing. It may help improve your cardiovascular health, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, prevent weight gain, and boost your mood and energy. It may also help reduce hot flashes by improving blood flow and regulating body temperature.
- Breathing exercises: These are techniques that involve controlling your breathing patterns and rate. They may help reduce stress, anxiety, and panic attacks by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your body and mind. They may also help reduce hot flashes by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Cold drinks: These are beverages that are chilled or have ice in them. They may help cool you down and relieve hot flashes by lowering your core body temperature. They may also help prevent dehydration, which can worsen menopause symptoms.
These natural remedies may have different effects on different people. Some may work better than others depending on your individual needs and preferences. Some may also have potential risks or interactions with other medications or supplements you may be taking. Therefore, it’s important to consult your doctor before trying any natural remedy for menopause.
What are some tips for coping with menopause?
Menopause can be a challenging time for many women, but it can also be an opportunity to embrace a new phase of life and make positive changes for your health and happiness. Here are some tips for coping with menopause:
- Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about menopause, its causes, symptoms, treatments, and complications. This can help you understand what’s happening to your body and what you can do to manage it. You can also seek reliable sources of information such as books, websites, podcasts, or online courses that provide evidence-based and up-to-date information about menopause.
- Seek support: Talk to your doctor, family, friends, partner, or other women who are going through menopause. They can provide you with emotional support, practical advice, or helpful resources. You can also join a support group, online community, or therapy session where you can share your experiences and feelings with other people who understand what you’re going through.
- Take care of yourself: Make your health and well-being a priority during menopause. Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and calcium-rich foods. Avoid or limit foods that may trigger or worsen your symptoms, such as spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, or processed foods. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and prevent dryness. Take a multivitamin or other supplements if needed to fill any nutritional gaps.
- Get enough sleep: Aim for at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night. This can help improve your mood, energy, memory, and concentration. It can also help regulate your hormones and body temperature. To improve your sleep quality, avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or heavy meals before bedtime. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable. Follow a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Avoid naps during the day or limit them to 20 minutes or less in the early afternoon.
- Manage stress: Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, massage, music, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Stress can worsen your menopause symptoms and increase your risk of health problems. It can also affect your mood, appetite, sleep, and libido. Therefore, it’s important to reduce stress and relax your mind and body.
- Stay active: Engage in regular physical activity that you enjoy and that suits your fitness level. This can help improve your cardiovascular health, bone density, muscle strength, balance, and flexibility. It can also help prevent weight gain, boost your mood and energy, and reduce stress and anxiety. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming) and two sessions of strength training (such as lifting weights or using resistance bands) per week.
- Maintain your sexual health: Don’t let menopause affect your sexual life and intimacy. Communicate with your partner about your needs and preferences. Use lubricants or vaginal moisturizers to ease dryness and discomfort during sex. Try different positions or techniques to enhance pleasure and arousal. Seek medical help if you have low libido, pain during sex, or other sexual problems that affect your quality of life.
- Seek professional help: If your menopause symptoms are severe or interfere with your daily functioning, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Your doctor can prescribe you medications or therapies that can help you relieve your symptoms and improve your health. You can also consult a therapist, counselor, or coach who can help you cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of menopause. They can provide you with guidance, support, and strategies to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or relationship issues.
Menopause is a natural and inevitable part of life for every woman. It can bring many changes and challenges, but it can also be a time of growth and empowerment. By educating yourself, seeking support, taking care of yourself, and seeking professional help if needed, you can make this transition smoother and more enjoyable. Remember that menopause is not the end of your life; it’s the beginning of a new chapter.