What is the menopause?
Menopause, also known as ‘the change of life’, marks the end of the monthly cycle of menstruation in a woman’s life. It is a natural occurrence and marks the end of the reproductive years, just as the first menstrual period during puberty marked the start. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, the average being around 51. The decrease in female hormones may lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. For some women, during the transition years the accompanying signs and effects (including lack of energy, hot flashes, and mood changes) can be powerful enough to significantly disrupt their daily activities and sense of well-being. Symptoms of menopause may be managed with lifestyle changes, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and natural therapies. Speak to your doctor to discuss your symptoms and the best way to manage them.
Symptoms of menopause
Menopause isn’t a bad experience for all women, (in fact there are women that don’t find the symptoms related to menopause bothersome at all) but for some women, menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, loss of sex drive, vaginal dryness and stress incontinence can be very distressing. The drop in hormones can also lead to a drop in bone mass, which can make women more vulnerable to conditions such as osteoporosis.
During the menopause transition years the majority of women find that their menstrual periods are gradually becoming more erratic, and the timing of the start of the flow usually becomes more and more difficult to predict. In addition the duration of the flow may be considerably shorter or longer than normal, and the flow itself may be significantly heavier or lighter than was previously the case, including sometimes long episodes of spotting. When oestrogen levels start falling before and during menopause, it can cause a woman to experience a number of other symptoms as well:
- hot flushes
- changes in sex drive
- mood changes, forgetfulness, irritability, lack of self-esteem
- breast tenderness
- crawling or itching sensations under the skin
- tiredness, difficulty sleeping – wakefulness
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal itching
- night sweats
- loss of bone density
Treatment and management for the menopause
Menopause is not a disease that has a definitive cure or treatment. However, in those cases where the physical, mental, and emotional effects of menopause are strong enough that they significantly disrupt the everyday life of the woman experiencing them, medical therapy may sometimes be appropriate. Taking HRT treatment is intended to reduce the severity of many of these symptoms and to prevent long term health risks such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Consult with your doctor to discuss whether this treatment is appropriate for you.
Unpleasant symptoms of menopause can often be reduced by improving your lifestyle with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Suggestions for maintaining good health at the time of menopause include:
- eat a wide variety of foods, including plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, cereals, whole grains and small portions of lean meat, fish or chicken
- increase fluids and eat dairy foods with high calcium content
- decrease caffeine and limit alcohol
- regular exercise (preferably weight bearing) of at least 30–45 minutes on most days of the week
- quit smoking
- pap smear tests and breast screening every two years
Herbal therapies can often be taken in conjunction with hormone therapy. It is important to let both your doctor and naturopath know exactly what each has prescribed, and to consult your doctor before taking any herbal treatments or dietary supplements. Some natural therapies can affect or interact with other medications you may be taking.