What is Menopause?
Menopause literally means cessation of menstruation or last period. It marks the end of a woman's fertile years when the ovaries produce lower levels of the reproductive hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
The average age for menopause in New Zealand is 51.5 years but it can occur anytime between the ages of 42 and 56. 'Perimenopause' is the official term used to describe the average of five or so years up to the last period.
When periods have stopped for a year it can be assumed that a woman is post-menopause. After menopause the body achieves a new hormonal balance by producing hormones from the adrenal glands, the brain, muscles, and hair follicles as well as continuing to produce lesser amounts of hormones from the ovaries.
A hysterectomy, tubal ligation, ovarian surgery, cancer drugs, smoking, and sudden shock or grief can bring on an earlier menopause. When the ovaries are surgically removed it results in immediate menopause. Women going through surgically induced menopause may have more severe menopausal symptoms.
The Signs of Menopause
Menopause is not an illness. It is as natural as puberty, pregnancy and childbirth and happens to all women as they grow older. The experience is different for everyone. About twenty percent of women have few or no signs other than the end of their periods, some women have many moderate symptoms, and a small percentage have severe discomfort.
The clearest signs of the start of menopause are irregular periods (when periods come closer together or further apart), and when blood flow becomes lighter or heavier.
Menopause experiences are different among individual women, and also among women in different cultures and in different parts of the world. Research has shown that women's experience of menopause can be related to many things, including genetics, diet, lifestyle and social and cultural attitudes toward older women. In some cultures women have few if any symptoms.
It may be that stress and lifestyle issues have as much to do with the experiences as changes in hormone levels. For these reasons, the actual symptoms that can be assigned to menopause are hotly debated.
The following signs are based on generally agreed symptoms and reports from women who have attended our menopause seminars.
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- disturbed sleep patterns
- vaginal dryness
- joint pain
- short-term memory problems
- dry eyes
- itchy or 'creepy' skin
- mood swings
- lower libido or sex drive
- difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Most of these experiences will lessen or go away after menopause.
Many women are seeking alternative therapies because menopause has been defined as a condition that must be treated. This redefinition of menopause was initially promoted by the makers of hormone replacement therapy, and has been used to advantage by people who manufacture other products. Unless women have an actual medical indication for treatment, the best strategies for protecting health are adequate exercise, a healthy, balanced diet, taking time for rest and relaxation, and smoking cessation. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been shown to reduce hot flushes but it has serious risks associated with short and long-term use. The NZ HRT guidelines recommend it be used in the lowest dose for the shortest time possible.
Some suggestions to help you enjoy your menopausal years:
Attend a menopause education seminar in your area.
Have a nutritious diet and enjoy regular exercise.
Manage your stress by balancing your work and social life.
Talk with your health care practitioner about your personal health concerns.
Know that you have choices and can take charge of your health.
Early, surgical or chemically induced menopause - www.earlymenopause.com