Although it’s associated with hormonal, physical and psychosocial changes in your life, menopause is a natural biological process, not a medical problem.
Menopause is usually a natural process. But certain surgical or medical treatments can bring on menopause earlier than expected. This include:
- Hysterectomy: A hysterectomy that removes your uterus but not your ovaries usually doesn’t cause menopause.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy: These cancer therapies can induce menopause. But they usually do so gradually, and you may have months or years of peri-menopausal symptoms before you actually reach menopause.
Menopause does not occur overnight, it is gradual and most people reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, the average being around 50. As you approach menopause the production of hormones (for example oestrogen) by the ovaries starts to slow down. As this process accelerates, hormone levels fluctuate more and often a woman notices changes in her menstrual cycle:
- Cycles may become longer, shorter or totally irregular
- Bleeding may become lighter
- Bleeding may become unpredictable and heavy
Eventually, the hormone levels will fall to a level where menstruation (periods) will cease altogether and the menopause is reached.
Other signs and symptoms
- Hot flushes
- Vaginal dryness
- Sleep disturbances and night sweats
- Mood swings
- Aches and pains
- Crawling or itching sensations under the skin
- Lack of self-esteem
- Reduced sex drive (libido)
- Urinary frequency
Several chronic medical conditions tend to appear after menopause. By becoming aware of the following conditions, you can take steps to help reduce your risk:
- Osteoporosis. During the first few years after menopause, you lose calcium from your bones at a much faster rate, which increases your risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to an increased risk of fractures. It’s important to engage in regular, weight-bearing exercise to keep your bones strong.
- Cardiovascular disease. At the same time your oestrogen levels decline, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases.
- Stress urinary incontinence. As the tissues of your vagina and urethra lose their elasticity, you may experience stress urinary continence. A condition that may cause you to leak urine during coughing, laughing or lifting.
- Weight gain. As your body’s metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) slows and oestrogen levels decline, your body weight and shape will likely change. You may need to cut down your food intake (perhaps as much as 200 to 400 fewer calories a day) and exercise more, just to maintain your current weight. Exercises also help in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Manage the menopause with a healthy lifestyle
Often, if you improve your lifestyle habits, unpleasant symptoms of the menopause will be greatly reduced, so try these first:
Choose a wide variety of foods
Plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, cereals and whole grains
Small portions of lean meat, fish or chicken
Increase fluids and eat low-fat dairy foods with high calcium content
Decrease caffeine and limit alcohol (1-2 standard glasses or less, per day)
Regular exercise – at least 45 minutes three times per week
It’s important to avoid smoking because of the associated risk of osteoporosis, coronary heart disease and lung cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement effectively reduces many of the unpleasant effects of symptoms of the menopause. If you are also in a category at risk of osteoporosis, hormone replacement could be considered as it can stop the progression of osteoporosis disease.
Regular Pap smear and breast checks
You should have:
- Two-yearly Pap smears
- A two-yearly mammogram.
for further and comprehensive information visit the Australian Menopause Society at the following link
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