Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. It is defined as the absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months. On average, menopause occurs around the age of 51, but it can happen earlier or later. During menopause, the ovaries produce less oestrogen and progesterone, leading to various physical and emotional changes.
Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Irregular periods: Menstrual cycles may become irregular, with longer or shorter intervals between periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats: Sudden feelings of heat, often accompanied by flushing and sweating, especially in the upper body
- Vaginal dryness: Reduced moisture and lubrication in the vaginal area, which can lead to discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Sleep disturbances: Insomnia, night sweats, or other sleep disturbances that can result in fatigue and mood changes
- Mood changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels can contribute to mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or depression
- Changes in sexual function: Decreased libido, changes in sexual desire and discomfort during intercourse due to vaginal dryness
- Physical changes: Menopause can lead to changes in the skin (dryness, thinning), hair (thinning, loss) and body composition (weight gain, redistribution of fat)
- Bone density loss: Oestrogen plays a key role in maintaining bone density, so decreased oestrogen levels during menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures
Management of menopause symptoms may include:
- Lifestyle changes: Engaging in regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, managing stress, getting sufficient sleep and avoiding triggers like caffeine and spicy foods can help alleviate symptoms.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): In some cases, hormone therapy may be prescribed to alleviate severe symptoms. It involves the use of oestrogen or a combination of oestrogen and progesterone. However, the decision to use HRT should be made based on an individual’s medical history and in consultation with a healthcare professional, as there are risks and benefits associated with its use.
- Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers: These can help alleviate vaginal dryness and discomfort during sexual activity.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help manage hot flashes and mood changes.
It’s important to remember that menopause is a natural phase of life and each woman’s experience can be different. If you have concerns about menopause symptoms or its impact on your overall health, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a gynaecologist or menopause specialist, who can provide personalised advice, evaluate your specific situation and discuss appropriate management options.