What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life that marks the end of her fertile years. It is preceded by perimenopause, during which the woman’s estrogen levels gradually decline. When she had no menstrual periods for twelve months, she has reached menopause. Women in the perimenopausal and menopausal phases of life can continue to lead full, healthy lives and enjoy fulfilling sexual relationships. However, some people do experience a variety of physical and mental health challenges such as disrupted sleep, anxiety and decreased energy levels.
What causes menopause?
Menopause usually results from the woman’s body producing less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle and ovulation. This is a completely natural and healthy process.
Menopause can also result from other factors, including the following:
- Hysterectomy: Although a hysterectomy that removes the uterus will result in cessation of your period, it does not cause menopause, since your ovaries still release eggs. However, a hysterectomy that removes the ovaries and the uterus will cause immediate menopause with no preceding perimenopause.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency: Premature menopause (menopause before the age of 40) can result from failure of the ovaries to produce enough estrogen and progesterone.
- Cancer therapy: chemotherapy and radiation can trigger menopausal symptoms that may or may not be permanent.
How do I know I have reached menopause?
Most women experience several years of perimenopausal transition, during which their hormonal levels fluctuate and their menstrual cycles begin to slow down. The symptoms of perimenopause include the following:
- Irregular and/or missed periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness or discomfort
- Weight gain that cannot be attributed to other causes
- Dry skin
- Increased fluctuation of moods
Does menopause come with any risks?
Although most menopausal women can remain healthy with the right adjustments to their lifestyles and nutrition, the risk of some conditions does increase:
- Cardiovascular disease: Declining estrogen levels has been linked with a higher risk of heart disease. Nutrition and exercise are particularly important for menopausal women.
- Osteoporosis: Menopause results in a rapid loss of bone density, making women more prone to fractures.
- Sexual function: Vaginal dryness can result in discomfort during sexual intercourse, which in turn can lead to lowered desire for sexual activity.