Irritability and mood swings, hot flashes in the depths of an Alaskan winter, insomnia, exhaustion and what feels like aging accelerated by a dose of amphetamines? Don’t worry, tomorrow you might feel fine and ready for the next bout of menopausal signs and symptoms… Probably the day after!
Menopause, and the peri-menopausal journey, can wreak havoc at levels similar to the wild frontier of puberty. Except this time, you’re expected to act like an adult with the teen excuse of rampant hormones no longer acceptable in your 40s and 50s.
The average age for menopause in America is 51.3 years, though this does differ both globally and in different cultures. Technically, menopause is the time of your last menstrual cycle, but is confirmed 12 months following. With the average menopausal signs and symptoms lasting from 4 to 8 years, and in a smaller percentage of women longer, it is time to take a look at the challenges the voyage through this transition time can bring, and why they occur.
But first, there are health issues that may mimic the changes of menopause. For example, hypothyroidism (a sluggish thyroid) can cause an irregular cycle, dry skin and depression, whereas hyperthyroidism (a fast thyroid) can bring hot flashes and sweating.
If you think you are possibly menopausal, while you may not require treatment, it can help to talk to your primary health professional for an expert opinion.
What does menopause look and feel like?
Let’s take a closer look at what happens in the female body to better understand how these signs and symptoms occur.
Menopause is, quite literally, when your menstrual cycle pauses, permanently.
As women age, the number of eggs in the ovaries dwindle, bringing with it significant hormonal changes.
See, during ovulation, the release of an egg results in the formation of a gland called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone (‘pro-gestation’) in order to support the potential implantation of a fertilized egg. This progesterone increase is a normal part of the menstrual cycle; if implantation occurs, the hormonal changes of pregnancy manifest. If implantation doesn’t occur, progesterone levels fall and the continuation of the regular menstrual cycle is once again triggered.
The menstrual cycle involves many different hormones, each dependent on the others. And while the explanation above is by no means expansive, it provides an inclining into the changes involved. These reproductive hormones do not, however, only affect our cycle, as they play important roles in a mind-bogglingly vast array of biological processes. This is why menopausal signs and symptoms can seem so odd and unlinked.
But, back to our eggs…
When our eggs ‘run out’ this cycle can no longer continue. We reach menopause.
Note: Premature menopause can be caused by premature ovarian failure, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that damage the ovaries, or a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (which includes removal of both ovaries).
Along the journey toward our last egg — through peri-menopause — the menstrual cycle and body can act like a car running low on gas; it is hard to start and often stalls. This presents with the…
Signs and symptoms of menopause
The signs and symptoms of menopause affect different parts of our body and mind, including our:
Brain and nervous system
Mood swings, memory loss, concentration issues and irritability, depression and anxiety.
Palpitations and increased risk of myocardial infarction (a heart attack) and stroke.
During the peri-menopausal transition, periods can initially become closer together or less frequent, the ability to predict flow is more difficult; some women will have heavier bleeding, others lighter, and breast tenderness can make its presence known. The changes that occur in menopause are designed to halt your ability to conceive.
For some women, libido can fly out the window. A decrease is vaginal elasticity combined with vaginal drying can also make intercourse painful.
Following menopause, the hormonal changes weaken the bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fracture.
Yes, the skin is affected too with potential itchiness, dryness, and even new facial hair growth.
As the vagina and urethra lose their elasticity, urinary frequency and even, accidental loss — particularly when laughing, coughing or sneezing — may result.
Oh, it gets better! A slowing metabolism can result in weight gain in menopause.
Other challenges include insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, headaches, migraines, nausea and even weird symptoms like a burning tongue, hair loss or tingling extremities.
While it may not sounds like it, menopause can be an exciting and liberating time, with many women loving this new chapter… No periods, period pain or PMS, and no concerns about possible unwanted pregnancies. And while the above may sound scary or horrible, there are many natural and traditional therapies and treatments to help. But that’s a topic for another day!