Menopause is a normal part of life, just like puberty. Menopause is defined as the state of an absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. It is the time of your last period, but symptoms can begin several years earlier. Some symptoms of menopause can last for months or years after. Changing levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are two female hormones made in your ovaries, might lead to these symptoms.
This time of change is known as the menopausal transition, but it is also called perimenopause by many women and their doctors. It can begin several years before your last menstrual period. Perimenopause lasts for 1 year after your last period. After a full year without a period, you can say you have been “through menopause.” Postmenopause follows menopause and lasts the rest of your life.
Hormone levels shift, ovulation stops, feelings and moods adjust, and your period comes to an end. It’s a huge change for every woman, and being prepared means being informed.
Menopause often coincides with a time in a woman’s life when she is beginning to come into her own. Scientifically speaking, postmenopausal women are most likely of all women to be depressed. They may have a greater sense of well-being than at any other point in their lives. Many older women are leaders in their communities and respected members of extended families. Menopause gives 45–55 year-old women a new lease on life physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually.
Some women rejoice; they view menopause as a change for the better. They’re happy to say goodbye to PMS, cysts, fibroids, worries about pregnancy and, most of all, their period.
Menopause can also be a time when a woman mourns the loss of her fertility and youth, and worries about aging and illness.
Menopause is a turning point, not a disease, but it can have a big impact on a woman's wellbeing. Although menopause can bring physical upheaval from hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms, it can also be the start of a new and rewarding phase of a woman's life -- and a golden opportunity to guard against major health risks like heart disease and osteoporosis.
It is important to remember that each woman's experience is highly individual. Some women may experience few or no symptoms of menopause, while others experience multiple physical and psychological symptoms. The extent and severity of symptoms varies significantly among women. These symptoms of menopause and perimenopause are discussed in detail below.
Irregular vaginal bleedin
Irregular vaginal bleeding may occur during menopause. Some women have minimal problems with abnormal bleeding during perimenopause whereas others have unpredictable, excessive bleeding. Menstrual periods (menses) may occur more frequently (meaning the cycle shortens in duration), or they may get farther and farther apart (meaning the cycle lengthens in duration) before stopping. There is no "normal" pattern of bleeding during the perimenopause, and patterns vary from woman to woman. It is common for women in perimenopause to have a period after going for several months without one. There is also no set length of time it takes for a woman to complete the menopausal transition. It is important to remember that all women who develop irregular menses should be evaluated by her doctor to confirm that the irregular menses are due to perimenopause and not as a sign of another medical condition.
Any spotting or bleeding after menopause should not be taken lightly and you should immediately consult you gynaecologist.
Hot flashes & night sweats
Hot flashes are common among women undergoing menopause. A hot flash is a feeling of warmth that spreads over the body and is often most pronounced in the head and chest. A hot flash is sometimes associated with flushing and is sometimes followed by perspiration. Hot flashes usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes. Although the exact cause of hot flashes is not fully understood, hot flashes are likely due to a combination of hormonal and biochemical fluctuations brought on by declining estrogen levels.
Sometimes hot flashes are accompanied by night sweats (episodes of drenching sweats at nighttime). This may lead to awakening and difficulty falling asleep again, resulting in non-refreshing sleep and daytime tiredness.
Vaginal symptoms occur as a result of the lining tissues of the vagina becoming thinner, drier, and less elastic as estrogen levels fall. Symptoms may include vaginal dryness, itching, or irritation and/or pain with sexual intercourse (dyspareunia). The vaginal changes also lead to an increased risk of vaginal infections.
The lining of the urethra (the transport tube leading from the bladder to discharge urine outside the body) also undergoes changes similar to the tissues of the vagina, and becomes drier, thinner, and less elastic with declining estrogen levels.
Emotional and cognitive symptoms
Women in perimenopause often report a variety of thinking (cognitive) and/or emotional symptoms, including fatigue, memory problems, irritability, and rapid changes in mood. It is difficult to precisely determine exactly which behavioral symptoms are due directly to the hormonal changes of menopause. Research in this area has been difficult for many reasons. Emotional and cognitive symptoms are so common that it is sometimes difficult in a given woman to know if they are due to menopause. The night sweats that may occur during perimenopause can also contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue, which can have an effect on mood and cognitive performance. Finally, many women may be experiencing other life changes during the time of perimenopause or after menopause, such as stressful life events, that may also cause emotional symptoms.
Other physical changes
Many women report some degree of weight gain along with menopause. The distribution of body fat may change, with body fat being deposited more in the waist and abdominal area than in the hips and thighs. Changes in skin texture, including wrinkles, may develop.
The Future Is Bright
The good news is that society and the medical communities have started to view menopause as an important life event. A wealth of information is available in books, on the Internet and through support groups. Menopause is truly a rite of passage that every woman should be able to emerge from with a sense of renewal and anticipation of a new life to come.