Menopause is ‘The change’, ‘the climacteric’, ‘the time of life’ call it what you will, it is an unavoidable fact that all women go through the menopause. However, for many women this natural process is a time of anxiety and distress due to the various symptoms that can accompany it. Some menopausal changes can also be brought about by treatments for cancer, including chemotherapy, ovarian ablation and hormone therapy. Whatever their cause you can make things easier.
When your hormones are imbalanced, or you have painful and irregular cycles, and your just not feeling your best as your emotions and anxiety go from being miss angry to miss tearful in a moment, life for you and your family isn't much fun.
The changes that women go through can sometimes be difficult to understand what is happening to them and it isn’t until a conversation with another woman or a GP that menopause is considered.
Why do women go through menopause?
The menopause refers to that time in every woman’s life when her periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 51. In a few exceptional cases women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger. This is then known as a premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency which I have written articles on how to manage, but ultimately it is no different to menopause that affects all women.
The menopause is influenced by hormones or more correctly, by a change in hormone levels. During a woman’s fertile years, her ability to produce an egg each month is associated with the release of three reproductive hormones (oestradiol, oestrone and oestriol), that are referred to collectively as oestrogen. Oestrogen is mainly produced by the ovaries, though small amounts are also made by the adrenal glands and by the placenta of a pregnant woman.
It is oestrogen which stimulates female characteristics at puberty and controls a woman’s reproductive cycle: the development and release of an egg each month (ovulation) for implantation in the uterus (womb), and the way in which the lining of the womb thickens to accept a fertilized egg. The monthly period happens because no implantation has taken place – there is no pregnancy – and the lining of the womb is shed.
As women get older, their store of eggs in the ovary decreases and their ability to conceive diminishes. At this time, less oestrogen is produced, causing the body to behave differently. However, the body does not stop producing oestrogen overnight, and the process can even take several years, during which symptoms arise gradually. This gradual change is called the ‘peri-menopause’ and can start at the age of 35 and most certainly in your early 40s.
At around the age of 45-55 years, the monthly cycle can stop completely so no more ovulations, no more periods and no more pregnancies. This is the menopause.
What happens and how does it feel?
For some women this loss of reproductive ability may be deeply felt, and for all women the menopause is a personal experience, not just a medical condition. However, the diminishing release of oestrogen from the ovary as women advance into their 40s is often the cause of symptoms which can be distressing and may need medical attention.
Hot flushes are the most common symptom of the menopause, occurring in three in every four menopausal women. Other common symptoms include night sweats, sleeplessness, vaginal dryness, irritated skin*, more frequent urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections, low mood and a reduced interest in sex. Symptoms vary hugely in duration, severity and what impact they have between women.