Menopause is ceasing of menstruation, it can cause many body changes. It occurs when a woman hasn’t menstruated in 12 consecutive months and can no longer become pregnant naturally. It usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55, but can develop before or after this age range, depending on the health of an individual.
Menopause can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flashes and weight gain. For most women, medical treatment isn’t needed for menopause.
What is perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause?
During perimenopause, menstrual periods become irregular. Your periods may be late, or you may completely skip one or more periods. Menstrual flow may also become heavier or lighter.
Menopause is defined as a lack of menstruation for one full year.
Post Menopause refers to the years after menopause has occurred.
What are the symptoms?
Every woman experiences different and unique symptoms of menopause. Symptoms usually appear more severe when menopause occurs suddenly or over a shorter period of time. Conditions that impact the health of the ovary, like cancer or hysterectomy, or certain lifestyle choices, like smoking, tend to increase the severity and duration of symptoms.
The symptoms of perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause are generally the same. The most common early signs of perimenopause are:
- less frequent menstruation
- heavier or lighter periods than you normally experience
- vasomotor symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and flashes.
Other common symptoms of menopause include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Depression, anxiety
- Dry skin
- Increased urination (overactive bladder)
- Memory problems
- Urinary tract infection
- Hair loss or hair thinning
- Heart palpitations
- Reduced muscle mass
- Less strength
- Reduced bone mass which may lead to osteoporosis
- Joint stiffness
- Unwanted hair on other areas of the body, such as the face, neck, chest, and upper back
- Tender breasts
- Muscle aching
- Joint pain
Why does menopause occur?
As the ovaries age, they produce less reproductive hormone and that’s when menopause occurs.
The body undergoes several changes in response to lower levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, FSH ( follicle-stimulating hormone ) and luteinizing hormone.
One of the most notable changes is the loss of active ovarian follicles. Ovarian follicles are the structures that produce and release eggs from the ovary wall, allowing menstruation and fertility.
Most women first notice the frequency of their period becoming less consistent, as the flow becomes heavier and longer. This usually occurs at some point in the mid-to-late 40s. By the age of 52, most U.S. women have undergone menopause.
In some cases, menopause is induced, or caused by injury or surgical removal of the ovaries and related pelvic structures.
Common causes of induced menopause include:
- bilateral oophorectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries
- ovarian ablation, or the shutdown of ovary function, which may be done by hormone therapy, surgery, or radiotherapy techniques in women with estrogen receptor-positive tumors.
- pelvic radiation
- pelvic injuries that severely damage or destroy the ovaries
Will I gain weight after menopause?
Not sure, many women gain an average of 5 pounds after menopause. Lower estrogen levels may play a role in weight gain after menopause. But weight gain may be caused by your metabolism slowing down as you age. You may also not eat as healthy or be as active as when you were younger. You also lose muscle mass as you age (muscle burns more calories at rest than other types of tissue in the body).
Weight gain can raise your risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. The risk is greater if you are already overweight or are not active or eating healthy.
The best way to lose weight, if you are overweight or obese, is to eat fewer calories each day. Exercise or physical activity is also important for good health, but works better to keep weight off than it does to help you lose weight. Researchers think this might be because people who are physically active are usually hungrier. Eating healthy and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days is the best way to keep a healthy weight.
How does menopause affect women’s health?
Your ovaries make less estrogen after menopause so when the women go through menopause they have very low estrogen levels. Lower estrogen and progesterone levels raise the risk of having certain health problems after menopause.
Examples of common health problems in the years after menopause include:
After menopause, lower estrogen level causes you to lose bone mass much more quickly than you did before, which puts you at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to become brittle and weak and break easily. A recent large study found that women who have severe hot flashes and night sweats during the years around menopause usually have more bone loss and are at higher risk for hip fractures than women who do not have severe symptoms.
Your risk for stroke doubles every decade after age 55. The lower levels of estrogen in your body may play a role in cholesterol build-up on artery walls leading to the brain that may cause stroke or other complications.
Before age 55, women have a lower risk of heart disease than men. Estrogen helps keep blood vessels relaxed and open and helps the body maintain a healthy balance of good and bad cholesterol. Without estrogen, cholesterol may start building up on artery walls leading to the heart. By age 70, women have about the same risk for heart disease as men of the same age.
Lead that you are exposed to over your lifetime gets stored in your bones. Because bone begins to break down much more quickly after menopause, that lead is more likely to be released into the blood. Older women can have blood lead levels 30% higher than before they reached menopause. This lead increases your risk for high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (sometimes called hardening of the arteries). This lead in your blood can also cause your kidneys to not work as well. It can also cause symptoms similar to dementia, affecting your memory and ability to think.
About half of postmenopausal women have trouble holding in their urine. Lower estrogen levels may weaken the urethra.
Dry mouth and an increased risk for cavities are more common after menopause.
How can I maintain health during menopause?
There are many important steps you can take to build your health in the years around menopause.
Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week is one of the best ways you can be healthier. Physical activity can help your bones, heart, and mood. Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. Brisk walking and regular household chores are good for your health. Ask your doctor about what activities are right for you. Aim to do:
- At least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or some combination of the two
- Exercises that build muscle strength on two days each week
Getting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients is just as important as when you were younger. But older women usually need fewer calories for energy.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about dietary supplements
- Women older than 50 need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 and 1.5 milligrams of vitamin B6 each day. Ask your doctor or nurse if you need a vitamin supplement.
- After menopause, calcium needs go up to maintain bone health. Doctors recommend that women 51 and older get 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day. Vitamin D also is important to bone health. Doctors also recommend that women 51 to 70 get 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day and women ages 71 and older get 800 IU of vitamin D each day. Ask your doctor or nurse if you need a calcium supplement or if you need more vitamin D.