Menopause – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is menopause?
Menopause refers to the absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. It is the time in a woman’s life when her periods (menstruation) stop. It is a natural, normal body change that most often occurs between ages 45 to 55. After menopause, a woman can no longer become pregnant.
What causes menopause?
Lower levels of female hormones cause menopause symptoms. During menopause, a women’s body produces less female hormones estrogen and progesterone. During menopause, a woman’s ovaries stop making eggs. Periods occur less often and eventually stop. Sometimes this happens suddenly. But most of the time, periods slowly stop over time. Menopause is complete when you have not had a period for 1 year. This is called post-menopause.
Sometimes, menopause is caused by the removal of both the ovaries by surgery. This causes a drop in estrogen resulting in menopause.
Sometimes, menopause can also be caused by drugs used for chemotherapy or hormone therapy (HT) for breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Menopause symptoms vary from woman to woman. They may last five or more years. Symptoms may be worse for some women than others. Symptoms of surgical menopause can be more severe and start more suddenly.
The first thing a woman notices is that periods start to change. They might occur more often or less often. Some women might get their period every 3 weeks before starting to skip periods. A woman may have irregular periods for 1 to 3 years before they stop completely.
The following are the common symptoms of menopause:
- Menstrual periods occur less often and eventually stop
- Heart pounding or racing
- Hot flashes, usually worst during the first 1 to 2 years
- Night Sweats
- Skin flushing
- Sleeping problems
The following are the other symptoms of menopause:
- Reduced interest in sex or changes in sexual response
- Memory problems (in some women)
- Mood swings and irritability
- Depression and anxiety
- Urine leakage
- Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
- Vaginal infections
- Joint aches and pains
- Irregular heartbeat
How is menopause diagnosed?
The doctor will review the symptoms and will perform a pelvic exam. Decreased estrogen can cause changes in the lining of the vagina. If the doctor suspects menopause, blood and urine tests are done to look for changes in hormone levels. These tests help a doctor can determine if a woman is close to menopause or she has already gone through menopause.
The doctor may do the following tests:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
How is menopause treated?
Treatment may include hormone therapy (HT) or lifestyle changes. Treatment is recommended depending on the following factors:
- Severity of symptoms
- Your overall health
- Your preferences
Hormone Therapy (HT)
HT may help if you have severe hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness. HT is treatment is given with estrogen and, sometimes, progesterone.
There are other medicines that can help with mood swings, hot flashes, and other symptoms. These include:
- Antidepressants, including paroxetine (Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin), and fluoxetine (Prozac)
- A blood pressure medicine called clonidine
- Gabapentin, a seizure drug that also helps reduce hot flashes
Diet And Lifestyle Changes
The following diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce menopause symptoms:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.
- Eat soy foods (soy contains estrogen).
- Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D in food or supplements.
Exercise And Relaxation Techniques:
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Do Kegel exercises every day. They strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis.
- Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash begins. Try taking 6 breaths a minute.
- Try yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
- Dress lightly and in layers.
- Keep having sex.
- Use water-based lubricants or a vaginal moisturizer during sex.
- See an acupuncture specialist.
What are the possible complications of menopause?
Some women have vaginal bleeding after menopause. This is often nothing to worry about. However, you should tell your doctor if this occurs. It may be an early sign of other health problems, including cancer.
Decreased estrogen level has been linked to some of the following long-term effects:
- Bone loss and osteoporosis in some women
- Changes in cholesterol levels and greater risk of heart disease
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.