What Is Menopause And How Does It Affect Your Health?

what is menopause

Menopause can be a  challenging phase in a woman’s life. It marks the end of the menstrual cycle. Women experience several symptoms, in varying intensities, during menopause due to hormonal changes occurring in the body. Every woman knows what is menopause.

The changes can affect a person’s physical health, emotional health, or even appearance. 

The hormonal changes that occur during menopause can also cause some complications that must be addressed. Let’s learn about what menopause means and how it affects your health. 

What is menopause?

Menopause is the phase of transition in women’s life when they stop getting menstrual periods. If 12 months have passed without any menstrual period, it can be termed menopause. [1] Menopause usually happens in a person’s 40s or 50s. 

It is a natural process. However, it is marked by a few physical symptoms, including hot flashes, and emotional symptoms that may disrupt your sleep, affect your emotional health, and lower your energy.

When does menopause occur?

There are several factors that can help determine when you will enter menopause, including your ovarian functions and genetics. [2]. The average age for menopause is 48 to 52 years. 

Most women begin noticing the symptoms of menopause about 3 to 4 years before their last menstrual period. The symptoms usually continue for 4 to 5 years after the last periods.

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Some women experience menopausal symptoms for nearly 8 to 10 years before menopause actually occurs. In such cases, the symptoms are likely to persist for a longer duration, up to 12 years, after their last period. [3]

Perimenopause is the term used to refer to the period before menopause when the production of female reproductive hormones – estrogen and progesterone – begins to fluctuate in preparation for menopause. [4]

Perimenopause may last from a few months to years. In some women, menopause and perimenopause may begin at an earlier age. It is called early menopause or premature menopause. [5]

Other than the natural biological processes occurring in the body, menopause may also occur due to some other causes such as:

  • Decline in the production of reproductive hormones due to ovarian dysfunctions.  This includes primary ovarian insufficiency which is also known as premature menopause.
  • Total hysterectomy with bilateral oophorectomy that involves the surgical removal of the uterus along with ovaries 
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation

What are the common signs and symptoms of menopause?

Menopausal women may develop symptoms that can affect their physical and mental health.  The symptoms may vary in intensity and last for a few months to years. [6]

Conditions that affect the functions of the ovaries, such as cancer and hysterectomy, as well as lifestyle choices, such as smoking, can increase the duration and severity of menopausal symptoms.

The common early signs of perimenopause and menopause include:

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  • Reduced frequency of menstruation finally leading to the complete absence of periods
  • Lighter or heavier periods 
  • Vasomotor symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes 
  • Mood swings
  • Pain and stiffness in the joints
  • Loss of bone mineral density
  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness and reduced sex drive
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Difficulty in concentrating and reduced memory 
  • Sore and tender breasts
  • Frequent urinary tract infections 
  • Loss of muscle mass

Women can consult a physician if the symptoms interfere in their routine activities. [7]

Does menopause cause headaches?

Headaches are a very common symptom of menopause. But headaches can occur due to something as simple as having a hectic day, stress or dehydration so sometimes, the headaches aren’t attributed to menopause. 

If headaches occur frequently, the exact cause must be determined. It is common for menopausal women to experience frequent, severe headaches. Headaches can occur due to changes in hormone levels and can lead to stress and mood swings. 

The decline in hormonal levels can cause flushing and dilation of the blood vessels. The dilation of arteries in the head results in increased blood flow to the brain.

This can cause a throbbing headache which can be accompanied by hot flashes and increased sweating. [8]

Recurring headaches should not be ignored and should be managed by using appropriate medications if necessary. 

How can menopause be diagnosed?

Typical symptoms like hot flashes, sweating, and mood swings are often enough to know that a woman is having a menopausal transition. Tests are not always needed to diagnose menopause. [9]

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However, if the symptoms are severe, women should undergo some tests to:

Assess the level of estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone in the blood 

Check thyroid hormone levels to detect hypothyroidism. Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism overlap with that of menopause. Having both conditions can cause severe symptoms.  [10]

Most women pass through menopause without experiencing unpleasant symptoms or complications. Medical intervention is not needed if a person has a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

However, it is advisable to still undergo screening for disorders linked to menopause such as osteoporosis, heart attacks, and cancers.  

Women should perform regular bone densitometry to rule out osteoporosis and have tests to assess their heart health. 

Similarly, they should visit a doctor regularly to undergo screening for ovarian, cervical, endometrial, and uterine cancers. The risk of these cancers increases with age, especially after menopause.

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Menopausal age women should undergo regular screening for the early detection of these conditions even if they have no symptoms of menopause. 

Conclusion

Being aware of the symptoms of menopause be attuned to changes in their bodies. It is important to seek medical help if the symptoms are severe or occur frequently.

Proper management of menopause coupled with healthy diet and lifestyle habits can help women avoid the complications of menopause.

References: 

  1. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-basics#1
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/symptoms/ 
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123742711000411
  4. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-basics#2
  5. http://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/2014/nams-recomm-for-clinical-care
  6. https://www.menopause.org/for-women
  7. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/womens-health/the-menopause-years
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25841598/
  9. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-basics#3
  10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/

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