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Turning 40 is a milestone moment and it’s a great age to be in. Especially for women who have more or less achieved their dreams: a fulfilling career, a beautiful family and an assurance and confidence no preceding age has been able to give them. However, all that self-assured existence is often marred by a certain uncertainty. Is it time? Am I there yet? With the many complications we face as women with menstruation already, menopause seems to be as confusing as it gets. To save you the guesswork, we have collated all the information you need about menopause.
Is menopause to be feared or dreaded?
Absolutely not. Granted, menopause comes in with certain unpleasant symptoms, but it is a natural change of state for the body where your regular menstrual periods stop. This happens due to decline in the number of eggs and reproductive hormones in the ovary, a natural process of degeneration in the hormones that takes place since the birth of a girl. The number of eggs in the female ovary from infancy to menopause gradually decreases from around a million to less than 10,000.
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How do you know for sure when you have reached menopause?
The most common age range when menopause strikes is between 48 and 55 years. However, women do get in their menopausal stage at a much younger age like in their 30s or sometimes as late as 60s. Menopause at a younger age is known as Premature Menopause.
There is a transitional phase leading towards menopause that is called Perimenopause. In this phase, which can last from 3-10 years, women experience the symptoms of menopause while still menstruating, although the menstrual cycles this time might get less frequent.
The standard condition for approved menopause is the absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months. Which means, if you haven’t been menstruating for at least 12 months at a stretch, you are supposed to have officially entered menopause.
Menopause can also be surgical, that is, women who have their ovaries surgically removed, also face the same symptoms of menopause; in fact surgical menopause features more severe manifestation of the associated symptoms.
Why is menopause such a concern worldwide?
Menopause is, by no means, a disease to be treated, rather a completely natural state of the female body. Yet the concerns surrounding it are the symptoms caused by the hormonal changes. Due to the fall in the amount of both estrogen and testosterone—important reproductive hormones—during menopause and perimenopause, the body experiences such symptoms as listed below:
Hot flashes: The most common of them all, a hot flash is an unusual feeling of excess warmth in the body for a few seconds to a minute. Often, there are additional feelings of palpitations in the heart as well as sweating and flushed skin. It is an uncomfortable experience that usually lasts 2-3 years but could also extend up to 5 or more years for some.
Low libido: Because of the drop in estrogen levels, menopause causes in the lowering of sex drive. Due to the same reason, the vaginal lining is affected, which may lead to a change in vaginal discharge and cause pain during intercourse. Dryness and discomfort in the area are also reported during menopause.
Cholesterol and risk in heart disease: Once again due to the drop in levels of estrogen, that keeps cholesterol in control, an increase in total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels commonly occur during menopause. This could lead to an increased risk of heart diseases, and is more common in women with surgical menopause.
Breast change: Hormonal imbalances also affect the shape of breasts, as during this time, the breasts lose tissue density. Soreness, pain and discomfort are often reported.
Troubled urination: A lack of sense of control in urination, that is an urge to urinate frequently, as well as a burning sensation during urination are all caused because of the change in the vaginal lining.
Weight changes: Change in the weight, most commonly weight gain, is another symptom of menopause. Loss of muscle is also associated with this stage.
Weakened bones: Since estrogen helps control bone density in an adult, the loss of the same is a normal reaction to menopausal changes. Bone loss gradually occurs during perimenopause and menopause and the condition could also lead to osteoporosis, increasing the risk of fractures.
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Mood swings and sleep disorders: Anxiety, depression, irritability and an unusual mental exhaustion form part of the menopausal experience for many. Restlessness, difficulty in sleeping and even insomnia have been reported. Headaches too aren’t unheard of.
Besides, dryness in the skin and in the mouth, loss of hair from the scalp, fatigue and lack of concentration and forgetfulness might also form a part of your menstrual experience.
Are there any lifestyle changes necessary for women in menopause?
A very big yes to this. Hormonal imbalances caused by menopause make women more vulnerable to certain diseases as heart diseases and osteoporosis than their pre-menopausal stages. Therefore, it is all the more necessary for them to facilitate in their lifestyles healthy changes that they might have been taking lightly earlier, due to putting work or family first.
The first most important thing is to get annual physical exams done by health care practitioners, including a breast exam, pelvic exam and mammogram. This is to avoid nasty surprises with respect to any disease that might be fostering within the body.
While menopause isn’t a disease that you need to address or cure, the uncomfortable symtoms can be lessened by far with the help of both prescribed medicines as well as a well planned nutritional diet. Adequate nutrition is essential in this stage to keep deficiencies occurring as a result of hormonal changes. A lot of people undermine the role of diet and nutrition when it comes to easing menopausal symptoms and are too quick to resort to medications. Thankfully, hot flashes, rise in bad cholesterol, bone loss and weight fluctuations are all effectively addressed by small but significant changes in your diet. Food is also an unexpected agent in calming anxiety and restlessness as well as maintaining the overall hormonal equilibrium.
Hence, when you find yourself tossing in bed at 3 am, unable to find peace from the discomfort that menopause charges at you, remember, more often than not, the cure is just as far as your kitchen is. If you’re unsure as to what changes in your diet and lifestyle will speed up the easing process, get help from a professional. Because being in menopause doesn’t have to mean being in perpetual discomfort.
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