Understanding Menopause

menstruationEvery woman will experience menopause in her own unique way. For some women, menopause will be a gradual phase that is hardly noticed. For others it can be marked with severe symptoms that make going about your daily life close to unbearable.

Menopause literally means the last monthly period of a woman's life. However, it is confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. The gradual decrease in the ovaries production of estrogen during this time is simply the body's natural evolution from the fertile child-bearing years to a whole new stage of life.

For most women, menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 to 55 years. The average age for menopause is 51 in Canada.

Natural midlife changes have begun when your periods become irregular. Perimenopause refers to the time leading up to menopause when the cycle length and menstrual flow can vary significantly. You may skip a period or your flow may become heavier or lighter. A common symptom is the commencement of hot flashes, which many women describe as a sudden rush of heat that spreads over the upper part of the body and face making the skin flush and causing a sudden burst of perspiration. The onset of hot flashes can often cause embarrassment for women as they can occur at anytime without warning. Night sweats and mood swings are also common during this time and you may find that your sleep patterns change.

Estrogen levels play an important role in a woman's life. They rise at puberty with the onset of childbearing years and then increase and decrease rhythmically with your menstrual cycle. They peak during pregnancy and then decline as you reach menopause and your menstrual cycle ceases.

If you are currently going through menopause, chances are you are accustomed to more than one of these symptoms. Perhaps it's the intense hot flash when you want it the least, or it's the on again, off again tug of war with the blankets at night as you experience night sweats.

The fact is thousands of women begin menopause everyday, so you are not alone.

Many women are also unaware that decreasing estrogen levels can have a less obvious but more harmful effect on your body, such as an increased risk of osteoporosis (bone loss) and high cholesterol.

The decline in estrogen levels during menopause gives rise to many symptoms:

Common symptoms:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Mood swings & irritability

Other symptoms:

  • Reduced libido
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Urinary frequency
  • Dry vagina
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Anxiety & depression

For most post-menopausal women, the visible symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and night sweats will ease. However, there are the invisible effects of menopause which remain.

After menopause, estrogen remains at very low levels. This increases the risk of osteoporosis. This can mean bones become more brittle and prone to fracture. Cholesterol levels may also rise in some women and arteries become less elastic ("hardening of the arteries").

Both osteoporosis and heart health are major long-term health issues that women should be aware of after menopause.