Menopause is simply the termination of menstrual life. It marks the time in the life of a woman when her menstruation ceases and she can no longer get pregnant. This is a normal life process just like adolescence; it is not a disease or a condition. A woman experiences a significant drop in the level of oestrogen in a period of 3-5 years before the menopause. This period is called peri-menopause.
What Causes Menopause
Menstruation is controlled by the hormones oestrogen and progesterone; particularly oestrogen is involved in regulating menstruation while progesterone is concerned with preparation of the body for pregnancy. With age, usually in early 30’s the body starts producing less of these two reproductive hormones, causing pre-menopausal period. As time goes by, the ovaries produce less and less progesterone and oestrogen, before eventually shutting down completely and the woman no longer experiences her monthly periods. Most women experience a gradual change in menstrual periods, while some have normal cycles until they suddenly stop. The average age for menopause is usually 45 years, although some women may go up to 50’s, depending on ones’ health, lifestyle among other factors.
Symptoms of Menopause
Technically, menopause is established when a woman has not had a menstrual period for a period of one year. Symptoms however appear well prior that period is over. The symptoms are several and may vary from one individual to the other. They include;
- Irregular periods: this is usually the primary symptom, where menstrual pattern changes significantly. Some women may experience a period as often as every fort night or three weeks while some may not experience any for months at a time. This is an early signal of menopause.
- Lower fertility: during the peri-menopausal period in a life of a woman, the level of oestrogen drops significantly lowering the chance of becoming pregnant.
- Vaginal dryness: when approaching menopause, the vagina becomes abnormally dry and sometimes may be itchy. Some women may also experience dyspareunia (pain during intercourse). During menopause the vagina becomes inflamed due to the thinning and shrinking of the tissues, together with reduced lubrication caused by lack of oestrogen. This condition is known as vaginal atrophy and is experienced by some women during peri-menopausal period while others experience it during post-menopausal period. Women experiencing post-menopausal vaginal dryness should seek medical advice as some may experience it even for more than a decade after their final period. However, many women shy off from talking about vaginal dryness and pain after menopause despite it being a stubborn issue.
- Hot flashes: this is a term used to refer to a sudden feeling of heat in the upper body. It may originate from the chest, neck, or face spreading either upwards or downwards depending on its origin. A woman may sweat from such pain, increased heart rate or palpitations (irregular or stronger heart rate). This symptom is normally experienced during the first year after a woman’s final period.
- Night sweats: this is sweat caused by hot flashes, which occur at night when a woman is sleeping. Hot flashes lasts a few minutes and anything more than this may be other health problems that may require medical advice.
- Urinary problems: women at menopause tend to be more susceptible to urinary tract infections and may urinate often.
- Disturbed sleep and moodiness: Sleeping problems are usually as a result of night sweats. Moodiness on the other hand results from lack of good sleep.
- Problems focusing and learning: menopause my cause some women to have a short term memory problems and they may find it challenging to concentrate. Shortly before menopause, some women may not even be able to learn as compared to other stages of life.
Other symptoms of menopause may include; loss of breast size, more fat building up in the abdominal area and hair loss/thinning hair.
Some women experience menopause before the supposed age of 45. This is because the ovaries can fail at any age depending on various factors including:
- Enzyme deficiencies,
- Down’s syndrome,
- Turner’s syndrome,
- Radiotherapy to the pelvic area,
- Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus),
- Genetic factors, or even being a twin (twins are more likely to have premature menopause) and
- Other diseases including TB and malaria, although the risk of ovarian failure is relatively small.
Complications or crises that may occur with menopause
After the menopause, it is possible for the following chronic conditions to occur including cardiovascular disease, urinary incontinence (involuntary urine loss), osteoporosis, low libido, breast cancer weight gain or obesity.
Though menopause is not a disease, some women seek medical treatment in order to restore their fertility. There are various methods available for treatment of menopause which has their own side effects. In addition, if you are having problems with menopausal symptoms, do not shy off from seeking medical advice.