The term “menopause” is described as changes a woman experiences either before or after she stops menstruating, marking the end of her reproductive cycle. It is usually seen in the 40s or 50s.
Every woman may suffer from varied signs and symptoms at menopause. The symptoms are attributed to the dwindling levels of estrogen. Many mild symptoms can be easily treated by lifestyle modifications, like avoiding coffee or carrying a portable fan for hot flashes; however, other symptoms can be more complex.
Here are the most common symptoms, Some may be due to aging rather than menopause.
Irregularity in periods: This is usually the first symptom which is noticed. Periods are no longer regular or they may be shorter or longer in duration. The bleeding may also differ than the normal days.
Consult a gynaecologist if:
- Two periods come consecutively, in a short period.
- Experience heavy bleeding and spotting.
- Periods last for more than a week.
This is the most common symptom, faced by many women, which may last for a few years after the menopause. It is caused due to fluctuating levels of estrogen. A hot flash is basically, a sudden feeling of feverish heat in the entire upper part of the body. Usually, face and neck are affected. Red blotches may be seen on chest, back, and limbs. Profuse sweating and cold intolerance can also follow. Hot flashes may be mild or severe enough to disturb the sleep cycle (called night sweats). Typically, they last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. They may occur several times an hour, a few times in a day, or just once in a week.
Vaginal health and urinary bladder control:
After menopause, the vagina may get drier which can lead to painful coitus. Moreover, the vagina also becomes more susceptible to infections. Along with vaginal problems, bladder problems like bladder incontinence, the increased frequency may also occur. They might have this sudden urge to urinate, or urine may leak while exercising or sneezing.
Menopause is responsible to disturb good night sleep. Some women may suffer from insomnia and the night sweats tend to add up to this trouble.
Some women may find themselves not interested in sexual activity. This decrease in libido is due to the change in hormone levels. Whereas, some might feel more liberated and free after menopause. After one year without a period, one can no longer become pregnant; however, they are still at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, herpes, AIDS, etc. Hence continue using protection even after menopause.
Women experience many mood swings during this period. They tend to get irritable instantly. The exact cause is still unknown; however, stress, work pressure, personal challenges, a history of depression, may be responsible for the same.
Many bodily changes can also be seen, like the waist may get larger, in general, weight gain. The skin may become drier and thinner, while hair and nails become brittle. One may also have memory troubles. The joints and muscles may feel stiff and achy. There may be headaches and heart palpitations. There are no specific explanations or theories for these changes.
The severity of all the symptoms varies greatly with respect to race and ethnicity.
There are various treatment options available for the menopausal symptoms, some of them are :
Hormone Replacement Therapy:
This is the most common treatment option, in which estrogen and progesterone are delivered, also called a combination Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It can be prescribed to women who still have their uterus intact, and have moderate to severe symptoms. The only estrogen is prescribed to women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is most effective for hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. There are hormonal patches, creams, gels, and vaginal rings available, as alternatives to the traditional medications. Treatment is usually initiated before 60 years of age and continued up to 5 years.
HRT is contraindicated in those who have breast or uterine (endometrial)cancer, blood clots, liver ailments, history of stroke. It is also contraindicated in pregnant women and those who have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding.
The women who are not able or those who do not wish to take hormonal therapy, may be advised non- hormonal therapy by their doctor to alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
Like, for vaginal dryness without hot flashes, vaginal estrogen is prescribed. It comes in a much lower dose of estrogen as compared to the medications used. They are available in the form of cream or ring and applied inside the vagina. Anti – depressants may also help with the hot flashes. Similarly, yoga, medications, relaxation techniques are other effective ways to curb menopausal symptoms.
Plant-based estrogens and black cohosh are also available over the counter to reduce hot flashes, but there is no evidence, regarding their effectiveness. They are contraindicated in women with a history of breast cancer because they may increase the chance of recurrence.
A healthy wholesome diet with a regular exercise regime is encouraged, to minimize the symptoms and overall help to maintain a healthy body. Unhealthy habits, such as smoking and drinking are advised to stop. They are also advised to wear clothes in layers, where light colors, avoid caffeine.
Alternative and complementary therapies:
These treatments are non-conventional. They include dietary and herbal supplements, acupuncture, homeopathy consult, chiropractor consult, massage therapy, and eating certain foods items that are thought to prevent or reduce the symptoms.
Alternative treatments are generally executed alone, while complementary treatments are alternative treatments that are used along with traditional treatments, such as medications or surgeries.
Many women try to get relief from their symptoms by including natural estrogen in their diet plan. Black cohosh and flax seeds have also helped in reducing the severity of the menopausal symptoms.