Menopause 101: Navigating a new stage of life
There can be a lot of fear associated with menopause, but by understanding what to expect when you enter a new phase in your reproductive life you can spend less time worrying about the unknown.
Menopause is a phase that can bring you a lot of joy as you enter a new stage of life or simply from being done with your period forever! However, it’s also a huge transformation for a woman physically, mentally and emotionally so it's important to know what to expect.
What is menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman's menstrual cycles, and is reached when you haven't had periods for over one year.
It's a natural process that occurs as the ovaries age and produce fewer reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This period also marks the loss of active ovarian follicles; the structures that produce and release eggs from the ovary wall for menstruation and pregnancy.
What to expect
The years leading up to menopause are known as perimenopause, and it's during this time that you might begin to notice the symptoms associated with menopause.
Some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause are:
- Hot flushes
- Night Sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sex drive
- Problems with memory or concentration
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- Mood changes
- Heart Palpitations
- Joint aches and stiffness
- Reduced muscle mass
- Recurrent UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections)
What’s the average age and length of menopause?
It's common for menopause to occur around the mid to late 40s and by age 52, most women have gone through menopause.
However, menopause can also be induced at a younger age through the surgical removal of the ovaries (a hysterectomy) or the shutdown of the ovary function (ovarian ablation) as a result of cancer treatments, autoimmune disease or surgery removing the ovaries.
Managing symptoms and body changes
Menopause can be physically and mentally taxing but there are ways to ease your symptoms:
During the day, try to wear linen or light cotton to stay cool and dry during hot flushes.
Using a water-based lubricant during sex or masturbation can help to combat vaginal dryness. You can also discuss vaginal moisturizers or suppositories with your doctor in order to ease dryness and alleviate pain during sex.
Night sweats are a particularly common and uncomfortable symptom of menopause. To stay cool and dry, try using waterproof sheets, wearing light cotton pjs to bed and taking cold showers. This won’t prevent night sweats but it will help you sleep better, easing other day-time symptoms like mood changes as a result of insomnia.
Mood changes and stress
Regular exercise like yoga and tai chi can decrease the severity of mood changes by reducing stress and providing an endorphin boost. If stress is getting you down, don't hesitate to consider talking therapy or chatting to your doctor about ways to feel better. The symptoms of perimenopause can be taxing on your mental health, so it's important to remember that you're not alone.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps to reduce the symptoms of menopause by replacing the estrogen that your body stops making during menopause. It can also help to prevent osteoporosis, which is the thinning of the bones as women age, leading to increased risk of fractures.
HRT has been associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, so it's important to talk to your doctor and check in often if you decide to move forward with this treatment.
Bad Habits to kick
Some habits can worsen menopause symptoms, so there are some vices worth kicking to the curb or at least limiting your use of, including:
- Excessive alcohol
- Too much caffeine
When to contact your doctor
If you notice symptoms of early menopause (before the age of 40) or if you are experiencing very severe or distressing symptoms that are interfering with your wellbeing, it's time to talk to your doctor. They should be able to shed some light why you are experiencing these symptoms, as well as finding new strategies to help you find relief.