Menopause is a word that can evoke a range of emotions in women. These days, it seems as though our society is obsessed with youth and youth culture, and historically the conversation around women’s sexuality (including the menstrual cycle, menstruation and their associated symptoms) has been muted, taboo, but it doesn’t need to be. Menopause falls into the same category, and has for decades been referred to as “the change” in with a negative connotation. It is not a disease, and it is not something to be feared. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) defines menopause as “the time when the ovaries cease to function, and menstrual periods stop (for 12 months), marking the end of the reproductive years.”. While academically that may “define” menopause, it is not an accurate description of the symptoms and time period that menopause may affect a woman. In addition to the natural occurrence of menopause, it can also be induced by surgery (a total hysterectomy or oopherectomy [removal of the ovaries]). In the United States, approximately 6,000 women reach menopause every day, and estimates suggest that close to 46 million women will be menopausal by the year 2020. The average age of menopause is 51, but can occur any time from the mid-30s to late 50s. Peri-menopause occurs when symptoms begin to present, and this is when the ovaries begin producing less estrogen. The symptoms associated with menopause are many and vary widely in frequency and severity. According to ACOG, approximately 15% of women will experience no symptoms related to menopause except the end of their menstrual period. Of course, that leaves 85% of women who will have to deal with the symptoms of menopause.
The age at which a woman goes through menopause is determined by a number of factors, including heredity, the number of children a woman has had (if any), and whether or not a woman is a smoker (this has been shown to decrease the age at which menopause occurs). However, “no correlation has been found between natural menopause and the use of oral contraceptives, socioeconomic or marital status, race, or age at menarche (first period).” (ACOG, 2011)
- What are some of the symptoms associated with menopause?
When a women goes through menopause, the drop in estrogen due causing the end of the menstrual cycle is quite dramatic (more gradual in natural menopause, and abrupt in surgical menopause). This can account for symptoms in menopause, and also for the variation in severity. Symptoms may last several years, and hot flashes can persist into post-menopause. The most common reported symptoms include:
- Hot Flashes
- Night Sweats
- Vaginal Dryness
- Memory Problems
- Weight Gain
- Skin Changes
Menopausal women are also more at risk for developing osteoporosis (loss in bone density) and cardiovascular disease, which is due to the lack of estrogen.
What Can Be Done to Help Alleviate Symptoms?
- Diet and Exercise – we all know this is very important, but a good diet in combination with an exercise regime can help reduce the symptoms associated with menopause.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – though there are differing opinions regarding the use of hormones, they are still used, and you should discuss with your doctor whether or not they would be appropriate for you.
- Herbal Formulas – there are natural remedies that can also help reduce the symptoms of menopause, however, not all herbs are right for everyone (just like hormones) and consulting with a trained herbalist is recommended.
As always, it is imperative to see your gynecologist at least once a year for a Well Woman Exam, even if you have had a hysterectomy.
The years that a woman goes through menopause can be challenging, and the symptoms can make life feel difficult, which is why it is so important to let them know they are not alone, because every woman will experience menopause!
National Menopause Awareness Day is October 18th!
For more information please visit: