Menopause is a natural biological process all women go through at the end of their reproductive years. The definition of menopause is when a woman has gone 12 months without having a period (1). Typically, this process happens when women are in their 40s and 50s, with the average age of menopause diagnosis to be around age 51. As women age, their ovaries naturally decline the amount of hormones they produce, like estrogen. This decline will eventually stop the release of eggs from the ovaries, and therefore after menopause, women can no longer become pregnant naturally.
Signs And Symptoms Of Menopause
Estrogen is a hormone that affects many parts of the body, including your reproductive system, your cardiovascular system (heart and blood), and your nervous system (brain). Because of this hormone’s vast effects, menopause comes with many symptoms (2).
- Hot Flashes – The most common symptom of menopause, hot flashes are sudden feelings of heat usually on the upper chest, neck, and face region. They can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes or more.
- Vaginal Dryness – A decrease of estrogen can lessen the natural layer of moisture inside the vagina. This can cause feelings of itchiness, stinging, and burning.
- Insomnia – This common symptom can mean both trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep.
- Urinary Tract Infections – In addition to frequent urination, women in menopause have a higher chance of contracting infections.
- Decreased Libido – Many women also become less interested in sex or experience pain during intercourse.
- Depression and Mood Swings – The changes in hormones can also cause feelings of irritability, feeling blue, or mood swings with highs and lows.
- Changes in Skin and Hair – Estrogen helps with collagen production. With less collagen, your skin will become drier and less elastic and your hair may start to thin or fall out.
Take Home Note:
Menopause has many signs and symptoms associated with it. If these symptoms interfere with your life, you can consult a doctor to find ways to alleviate them.
Perimenopause Versus Menopause
Menopause is not something that happens overnight; it is a process. Women tend to see menopause signs starting years before menopause actually occurs. This transitional period is called Perimenopause (3). This is categorized as the time where estrogen levels begin to drop, with the speed of that decrease becoming faster in the last 1-2 years before menopause actually occurs. This transitional stage can last anywhere from a few months to upwards of 10 years, but the average length is around 4 years. Many of the symptoms associated with menopause start to show during the perimenopausal stage. One common symptom specifically associated with this transition is irregular periods. But, it is important to remember that even with the lower estrogen and irregularity, women still have the ability to become pregnant during perimenopause. If this causes issues, it is suggested to stay on a form of birth control until you are sure that you have completed menopause.
Take Home Note:
Perimenopause is the transition stage leading up to menopause. Many women experience the same symptoms as if they were in menopause. But, pregnancy is still possible during this transition, so birth control may still be a relevant need.
What is Premature Menopause?
While most women go through menopause in their 40s or 50s, around 1 in 100 women will experience menopause earlier in life. There are many reasons, typically medical, that can cause this. Women who have had a total hysterectomy, including their ovaries, have a very sudden menopause. Because these women do not experience the gradual drop in estrogen, their symptoms may be more intense. Other things that can cause premature menopause include some breast cancer treatments as well as chemotherapy or radiation. Some underlying health issues, like Addison’s Disease or Down’s Syndrome can also cause these changes prematurely. If you are wondering if you are possibly going through premature menopause, your doctor can run tests to check the hormone levels in your blood (4).
Take Home Note:
While unlikely, some women have experienced menopause prematurely. If you suspect that you are going through menopause before the age of 40, check with your doctor to see if you have low hormone levels in your blood.
Are There Other Health Risks Related To Menopause?
Because of the lower estrogen levels in your blood, menopause can cause other health problems (5).
These may include:
- Heart and Blood Disease – Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. Low estrogen levels can cause a higher risk of heart disease, so it is important to speak with your doctor about how to keep your heart healthy.
- Osteoporosis – Low estrogen also causes thinning and weakening of your bones. This can make it much easier to experience breaks or fractures. Especially in high movement areas like hips, wrists, or the spine, fractures can become a real concern.
- Incontinence – Because of the loss of elasticity in the tissue, many women experience frequent, strong urges to empty their bladders. Sometimes coughing, sneezing, or laughing can even cause involuntary emptying of the bladder.
It is important to speak with your doctor about the possibility of these health risks. Healthcare professionals will be able to help determine your risk and find the best treatment for you.
Take Home Note:
Low estrogen levels can cause many other health problems. It is important to speak with a doctor about your risk factors and how to prevent these medical issues.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a common prescribed treatment for menopause signs. If you prefer, there are also natural remedies that can help stop some of the symptoms (6). Some of these remedies include:
- Black Cohosh – This herb has been reported by women to help reduce hot flashes.
- Red Clover – While studies have been inconclusive, women report this extract to help reduce hot flashes.
- Dong Quai – This traditional Chinese herb has helped treat gynecological problems in women for over 1,200 years.
- Ginseng – This natural herb has been shown to help with overall symptoms of menopause.
- Kava – This herb has been shown to help decrease anxiety.
- Evening Primrose Oil – This oil has also shown ability to decrease hot flashes.
As with all natural remedies, these all have different side effects and effectiveness. Speak with a doctor before starting any natural remedy.
Take Home Note:
While HRT is common, there are also many natural home remedies that you can try to reduce symptoms of menopause. But, with all supplements, it is important to consult with a doctor first.
Menopause is a natural occurrence in all women. It comes with many signs and symptoms. The transitional period can last many years, and there is also a possibility of going into menopause prematurely. If you experience these signs and symptoms, you can consult with your doctor to find the right treatments for you!