You might already be familiar with how the menstrual cycle works. It may feel unpleasant to bleed from your vagina every month. What if we tell you that it stops after a certain age? Sounds too good to be true? Well, this process is called menopause. It's part of the natural aging process in a woman, and it is not as fun as it sounds.
What is Menopause?
"Meno" refers to the menstrual cycle, and "pause" means halting. Menopause is a biological process that marks the end of the menstrual cycle. Typically it's related to aging. It's the time when a woman's ovaries stop producing reproductive hormones (Estrogen and Progesterone). Menopause starts approximately 12 months (one year) after a woman stops having her period. Once menopause kicks in, a woman loses her fertility and can no longer reproduce.
When does Menopause starts?
Menopause usually starts between the age of 40-60 and is a sign of normal aging. A woman usually reaches menopause at about the same age as her mother did. However, some women can experience menopause earlier in life. Premature menopause can result from radiation therapies, damage to the ovaries, surgeries, or organ-altering drugs. When the menstrual cycle stops before age 40, this premature menopause is medically termed primary ovarian insufficiency.
Stages of Menopause
Menopause is not a rapid transition. It can last for years and can be divided into three primary stages. All these stages have different impacts on life and the regular activity of the body.
Perimenopause or menopause transition is the first stage of menopause, starting about 10-12 years before menopause. Perimenopause is characterized by your ovaries releasing less estrogen. Usually, starting in your 40s, perimenopause ends with your ovaries losing the ability to produce eggs. Perimenopause is a transition stage, and although the estrogen level drops faster, a woman can still have her period and conceive a child. Most women face menopausal symptoms, such as mood swings, insomnia, etc., during the transition phase.
Menopause is when a woman's ovaries stop making eggs and produce minimal estrogen. This usually occurs after 12 consecutively missed periods. Menopause can be spelled out as the permanent end of your menstrual cycle.
Postmenopause is the stage that starts from menopause and ends with your life. During postmenopause, multiple symptoms of menopausal symptoms occur with lower levels of estrogen, including the risk for severe health problems.
Why does Menopause occur?
Menopause is a normal aging process. As you age, your reproductive system starts to slow the reproductive cycle. The release of estrogen is reduced, and the ovaries stop preparing the uterus to hold a fetus. During the three stages of menopause, the estrogen and progesterone level drops, changing your menstrual cycle. It first becomes irregular with missing periods and lower blood flow and eventually will stop. Physical changes can also occur as your body adapts to the changes in hormonal levels, such as facial hair growth, changes in voice, skin, and mood swings. Once a female reaches menopause, she can no longer reproduce (get pregnant).
For some women, the menopausal symptoms are mild, whereas, for others, they are long-lasting and severe. A few common symptoms of menopause are enlisted as follows:
• Hot flashes and cold flashes
• Loss of libido or sexual drive
• Dryness of mouth, eyes, skin, and vagina
• Psychological problems such as depression, mood swings, aggressiveness, etc.
• Breast tenderness
• Heightened sensitivity
• Urine complications
• Increase facial and pubic hair
In some cases, women also complain of hair thinning, weight gain, muscular pain, orthopedic problems, and temporary memory lapse.
Detection of menopause is quite simple. The most effective way to ensure you have reached menopause is to keep track of your menstrual cycle. When you miss 12 consecutive menstrual cycles, that's what ensures that you've entered into menopause and might be in the postmenopausal stage now. However, you can also consult a medical practitioner or a gynecologist if you're unsure about entering menopause.
Menopause is a sign of normal biological aging; hence no treatment is required in normal conditions. However, if you face severe menopausal symptoms, you can treat the symptoms with hormonal or non-hormonal therapies. There are a few risks involved, so consulting a doctor before undergoing any medical treatment is a must.
Menopause is neither a disorder nor a disease. It can be liberating for some women, while it can be very irritating and discomforting for others. A healthy diet, regular exercise, joining a health support group, and using doctor-prescribed medications can be an aid in tackling this life-changing experience.