The most significant change for a woman in her middle years is the onset of menopause when the fertile half of life draws to a close. It is an inevitable process, and much like menstruation in younger years, can affect women in many different ways and to varying degrees. Fluctuating hormone levels are the main culprits, and it can take several years for your reproductive system to complete the change.
It can be a difficult time for many women because it signals the end of youth and the approach of older life, and of course, it marks the end of an opportunity for more children. On the other hand, it can be a liberating experience marking the beginning of a whole new phase of your life that is full of opportunity and possibilities. The key to coping successfully with this change is to understand what’s happening and manage your symptoms for optimum health and wellbeing.
What sort of problems might you experience?
As noted above, each woman’s experience will be unique, and there is no blueprint for the progression of the menopause. However, there are several aspects of the process that is likely to affect you to some degree. These are due to the effects of the hormones estrogen and progesterone:
- Disruptions to your normal menstrual cycle: As the hormones that regulate your monthly cycle start to fluctuate, you will find your periods become less regular than you might be used to. They could become more frequent for a while, then disappear altogether for a few months. You might find you start going for longer and longer lengths of time between periods, and this can last for several years in some cases. You might notice other changes, such as increased or reduced blood flow, or a change in the level of discomfort your period normally causes.
- Mood changes: You’ll almost certainly notice some effect on your moods and emotions during the menopause. Just as the rise and fall in hormone levels during your menstrual cycle can bring on symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, so can the menopausal disruptions to hormones create similar effects on your mood. You could feel depressed, lethargic, tired; unable to motivate yourself to do anything, even things you would normally enjoy. You could also find you are more easily frustrated, or angered, and feel weepy for no apparent reason. If you’ve been through a pregnancy, you might find there are similarities to that experience, when mood swings are common.
- Urinary system problems: Women often find that after a vaginal birth, there is a weakening of the pelvic floor and accompanying problems with bladder control. This normally resolves once the muscles have healed and strengthened, especially if you are careful to do regular pelvic floor exercises. You may be subject to the odd leak if you have a violent sneezing or coughing attack, or you have a laughing fit, and you might find you can’t hold on as long as you used to before visiting the bathroom. When the menopause takes effect, there will be a loss of elasticity and strength in the muscles that can make these kinds of problems worse again. If you find you are having any kind of urinary problems, it’s advisable to consult a specialist practitioner in Advanced Urology, who will be able to give you a thorough assessment and advise you on the most effective course of treatment for your condition.
- Bone density: as well as thinning of the skin and less elasticity, hormone reduction can lead to a reduction in bone density. This can cause the bones to become more brittle as you age, leading to osteoporosis, which causes problems in later life. Smoking and heredity are also factors in the onset of osteoporosis, so if you haven’t managed to quit yet, this is another good reason for saying goodbye to cigarettes. Supplementation with calcium and Vitamin D can help to prevent the onset of osteoporosis, and weight-bearing exercise will strengthen bones. Even if you haven’t exercised much before, it will still be beneficial to take some regular exercise to keep your bones stronger and help you maintain your physique.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
The main treatment available that addresses all the symptoms of the menopause is hormone replacement therapy. This, as the name suggests, involves taking oral estrogen and progesterone to replace what your body is no longer producing. The treatment can be very effective for many women, who experience a significant reduction in their symptoms. You will need to consult your doctor for advice on whether you are suitable for HRT, and how long you should remain on it. Women who have had any kind of circulatory problem in the past such as a deep vein thrombosis, are usually advised not to go on HRT as it may increase the risk of further blood clotting problems. But for many women, it can be a very great help.
Other treatments for the menopause
Other than HRT, there is surprisingly little in the way of conventional treatments for menopausal symptoms. The problem is that although the cause is understood, e.g., hormone reduction, the only answer is replacing the hormones; so apart from HRT there are few effective options. Supplementation can be useful and may help with bone density, skin and hair health, and mood problems. There are also several herbal remedies that are claimed to help alleviate symptoms. Before taking any supplementation, you should check with your doctor that the supplement is safe for you to use, and do your own research into the evidence for any claims made for herbal products.
Having read through this summary of the menopause, you could be forgiven for thinking it is all doom and gloom. This isn’t the case though, so don’t start feeling despondent about the process. You might find that you have very few symptoms, and the change passes without much, if any, effect on your life. If you have suffered from painful menstruation or pre-menstrual syndrome, you can look forward to all that coming to an end in the not too distant future. Plus of course, this marks the beginning of the next stage of your journey through life, and there could be many wonderful experiences to look forward to.