Menopause, or end of menstruation, happens to every woman and sometime between the ages of 40 and 55. As a woman ages, her ovaries release eggs less regularly and eventually stop completely. At the same time, the ovaries produce less of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
Oestrogens affect many organs and tissues in the body, so during menopause, the whole body goes through many changes. For a third of women, these changes will pass by without causing any physical discomfort. For another third, there may be some minor physical discomfort, while for the remaining women, there may be distressing symptoms for which medical assistance can be sought.
Such symptoms include hot flushes, insomnia, tiredness, irritability, a dry vagina and osteoporosis.
Knowing what to expect and how diet, exercise and careful use of drugs an help to overcome any menopausal problems helps women to cope better with the changes during this time.
Hot flushes are sudden waves of heat, sweatiness and red patches on your skin. These flushes last for a few seconds and can happen several times during the day.
Women may begin to have difficulty with sleeping , and find that they become nervy, irritable or depressed.
The lessening amounts of oestrogen can make the vaginal walls drier, less elastic and more prone to infection. If sexual intercourse becomes uncomfortable, speak to your partner and find new ways of enjoying it. Lubricants such as KY jelly, or oestrogen cream may help.
If there is a lack of oestrogen in the body, a condition known as osteoporosis may develop over several years. Calcium leeches out of the bones, making them thin and brittle and more liable to break.
A balanced diet, rich in calcium, and plenty of weight-bearing exercise will help bones to be stronger. It is now recommended that post-menopausal women should have 1 gram (1000 mg) of calcium daily.
Medication is now available which can successful treat osteoporosis, but maust be commenced by your GP at the early signs of the condition to maximise effectiveness.
Oestrogen replacement therapy, that is, taking a regular dose of oestrogen, may slow the progress of osteoporosis, and will help to prevent it. Talk to your doctor about the advantages and disadvantages of oestrogen replacement therapy.
The menopausal years are a time of great change for women. It can be seen as the middle of adult life, marking the change from fertility and entering the remaining 20 or 30 years that a woman can expect to enjoy life.
For further information about menopause, contact your doctor, the Family Planning Association, Women’s Health Centre or Community Health Centre.