Hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods, loss of sex drive, vaginal dryness? If any of these sound familiar, you (or perhaps a partner or friend of yours) may be thinking ‘Menopause’. This event marks the official end of fertility for a woman and is defined as the last Menstrual Period in a woman´s life, normally confirmed by 12 consecutive missed periods. While menopause usually occurs around 50 years of age it normally lasts for several years, and has a number of stages, with signs and symptoms usually beginning several years before its peak.
Let's have a look at the Stages:
PreMenopause: The years between a woman´s first menstrual period and menopause are called premenopause.
Menopause: The last menstrual period of a woman´s life, confirmed by 12 consecutive missed menstrual periods.
PeriMenopause: This is the phase that most female readers will be best familiar with, as it involves the physical symptoms that we associate with menopause. This is known as the transitional phase that comes before and after Menopause, lasting 6 years or more and ending 1 year after the final menstrual period. It is during this time that the often erratically changing levels of estrogen and other hormones provoke the uncomfortable symptoms that many women may experience.
PostMenopause: a woman is considered to be postmenopausal when she hasn´t had a menstrual period for 1 year.
Signs and Symptoms
Out with the monthly period and in with a dozen other things to look forward to! About 70% of women approaching menopause experience symptoms, while some women may be so lightly affected that they hardly notice it. Hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods, loss of libido and vaginal dryness are just a few of the more common symptoms of perimenopause/menopause. Other changes may include decreased sex drive, fatigue, hair loss, sleep problems, concentration and memory problems, dizziness, weight gain, anxiety, irritability and depression. Some women experience various aches and pains including breast pain, headaches, joint pain, itchy skin, digestive problems and symptoms associated with osteoporosis.
Causes - Let´s talk about Estrogen
At the time of birth, girls are born with all the eggs they will have during their lifetime. With age the ovaries begin to function at a reduced rate, producing less and less of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and ceasing to release eggs. Estrogen is an incredibly important hormone, affecting many parts of the body including the reproductive system and vagina, how the body uses and stores calcium in bones, and helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels in the blood. Decreased production of estrogen is believed to be the leading cause of many of the symptoms associated with menopause. For some women the decrease may be gradual, while in others it is abrupt or erratic thereby causing the symptoms to feel more or less severe.
Sex and Menopause
The decline in production of testosterone and lower levels of estrogen can inhibit sexual desire for some women from perimenopause through to post menopause. A decrease in estrogen production causes a decreased blood supply to the vagina, affecting vaginal lubrication and causing discomfort for some women during intercourse. Spending more time during Foreplay, Masturbation, Sensual Massage, using Adult Videos, Sex Toys or other forms of stimulation may prove beneficial to increasing arousal. Also of great benefit is using a water-soluble Lubricant such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly to help things along should there not be sufficient natural lubrication. On the other hand, it may be of some relief to note that a number of women actually report an increase in sex drive. This may be due to no longer worrying about an unplanned pregnancy, or due to being in a stage of life with less stress associated with fewer family-raising responsibilities. For more information on how to improve your sex drive during menopause please read our article on Sex Drive Killers.
Management / Treatments / Therapies
The bothersome symptoms of menopause can be dealt with by making changes in diet and exercise, as well as with medication.
Diet: Many online resources discuss diet and menopause in terms of the weight gain associated with menopause. However, evidence shows that diet can help to alleviate other troublesome symptoms such as hot flashes, irritability, headaches, nausea and night sweats. Recommendations include eating more soy products, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, calcium rich foods, fatty-acids (found in fish and olive oil) and flaxseed, as well as avoiding high-fat and high-sugar foods. For further reading: Managing Menopause Symptoms Through Diet
Exercise: Studies show that regular moderate exercise can improve mental and physical health and decrease symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and night sweats in menopausal women.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): The medical treatment for perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause that is used to provide relief by supplementing the body with adequate levels of estrogen and/or progesterone. There are two main types of hormone replacement therapy, both of which should be thoroughly discussed with your Medical Doctor prior to starting: Estrogen Therapy: Estrogen is taken alone each day in the form of a pill, patch, vaginal ring, or cream. This method is used to relieve symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, Vaginal Dryness, night sweats and dry itchy skin.
Combination Therapy (Progesterone-Estrogen Hormone Therapy): A combination of estrogen and progesterone are taken together. This option is used for women who still have their uterus to decrease the risk for cancer of the endometrium caused by taking estrogen alone. The side effect of this option is that progesterone causes regular monthly bleeding (so much for no more menstrual periods!).
*both options recommend taking the lowest dose of hormone possible to relieve symptoms.