MENOPAUSE - Get ready for your healthier menopause
Menopause is a naturally occurring process that doesn’t have to be difficult. Greater knowledge and preparation are giving women more control and improved quality of life during their menopausal years.
Sometime around their mid-40s, women start to feel the changes – unusual symptoms like “hot flashes,” changes to their normal sleep pattern, mood swings and even periods of feeling depressed. What exactly is happening? And what should they be doing about it?
A new phase begins
The changes women experience in their 40s signify the beginning of menopause. Just as a girl’s first menstrual period marks the beginning of the female reproductive period (the “childbearing years”), menopause marks the end of that life stage.
During menopause, a woman’s ovary function drops significantly, affecting her ovulation cycle. When the ovulation cycle is disturbed, the full cycle of menstruation – the lining and melting of the endometriosis cells inside the uterus – is also affected.
While menopausal symptoms first become noticeable around the early- to mid-40s – though Thai women tend to enter menopause around the age of 50 – menopause-related changes actually begin years earlier.
The level of the female hormone estrogen begins to decline around the mid-30s and continues to decline gradually over time. Once in their 40s, women begin to experience noticeable symptoms that result from the decline in estrogen – a period known as perimenopause.
The perimenopause experience can vary greatly from one woman to another; symptoms range from mild to severe – and some women have no symptoms at all. Though a common menopausal symptom is having irregular periods, it can take months or even years for a woman with perimenopause symptoms to finally reach menopause, which is defined as when a woman misses her period for 12 consecutive cycles without another medical cause such as prior removal of the ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy), chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Know the symptoms
The onset of menopause can be felt in different ways. While most women feel the onset as a gradual transition, some women experience few or no changes until they reach menopause. The most common symptom is a change in menstrual periods – shorter or longer cycles, lighter or heavier blood flow, and more or less time between periods. Other symptoms include:
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats;
- Joint pain;
- Sleep difficulties, e.g. sleeplessness or sleep apnea;
- Palpitations or strong heartbeat;
- Chronic fatigue;
- Mood swings;
- Feeling anxious or depressed;
- Skin irritation caused by thinning of the skin;
- Vaginal dryness, reduced libido;
- Pain during intercourse.
Although most women encounter at least some unpleasantness during menopause, understanding the process and being aware of the nature of their symptoms can help women better cope with the negative aspects of menopause.
Besides the unpleasant symptoms that affect daily life, menopause can increase some women’s risk for bone loss and heart disease.
During the perimenopause years, bone loss is quite common. Most women experience their maximum bone density around the age of 25 to 30; after that, bone density typically declines by about 0.13 percent per year.
However, during the perimenopause stage, the rate of bone loss tends to increase, to as high as three percent each year. This more rapid bone loss is behind the increased risk of osteoporosis among menopausal women, making them more prone to bone fractures.
High cholesterol and heart disease
The precise relationship among hormones, total cholesterol, and the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) remains unclear. But statistics show that menopausal women tend to have higher levels of total and bad cholesterol. Higher cholesterol puts menopausal women at greater risk for
Coping with change
While menopause is not a disease or illness, women can benefit greatly from professional advice on how to cope more successfully with the changes they’re experiencing. The advice of a healthcare professional can help alleviate some physical symptoms and deal with emotional stress as well. For those who experience more severe symptoms, doctors may prescribe hormone replacement therapy and/or cholesterol lowering medication, plus calcium and vitamin D supplements, to help control a patient’s risk for developing heart disease and osteoporosis.
While medication is one tool to control menopausal symptoms, lifestyle changes can be even more important in promoting women’s long-term health. It’s never too late to live a healthier lifestyle. The following steps can help women better manage the effects of menopause:
- Take calcium and vitamin D supplements;
- See your doctor regularly and follow recommendations for check-ups and screenings;
- Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet;
- Keep weight under control;
- Limit alcohol consumption and avoid smoking;
- Exercise regularly;
- Get enough sleep each day and follow a regular sleep routine;
- Wear cotton clothes that allow the skin to breathe;
- Be aware of what causes stress and try to reduce everyday stress.
These changes can have the twin benefits of controlling caused by the body’s fluctuating hormone levels that occur during menopause while boosting your overall health.
Menopause doesn’t have to feel like a disease. Become as knowledgeable as you can so you’ll be prepared for what’s ahead and cope more successfully with life’s natural changes.
“Lifestyle changes can make a major difference in reducing the severity of menopausal symptoms, while boosting overall health at the same time.”