‘That time of the month’ is often the phase characterised by mood swings, cramps, pain and discomfort. Women share a love-hate relationship with their periods. Often times, the onset of periods brings about tremendous changes in a woman’s life - right from altering her physical appearance, to changing her routine completely. This is the time when women are worried about staining their clothes and plan important events in a way that they don’t clash with their periods. One thing that crosses many young girls’ minds when they first have their periods is - when will this thing end?
The answer to this question is simple - periods end when menopause happens.
Medically defined as the full-stop to a woman’s fertility, menopause marks the end of menstruation in a woman’s life. While it might seem like a really good deal that life has to hand over to you (imagine, you don’t need a period tracker, you don’t have to worry getting your periods when you are on a vacation and all that), what menopause actually introduces is a different ball game altogether.
Menopause happens when a woman hasn’t had her periods for 12 consecutive months. Typically, the average age for menopause is 51 years, but many women experience an early onset, too. When the ovaries produce less reproductive hormones and there is a considerable decline in estrogen (needed to regulate your periods) and progesterone (needed for pregnancy), that’s when the symptoms of menopause begin to appear. It also often triggers the rise of another hormone called follicular stimulating hormone or FSH.
When Will You Have Menopause And How Long Will It Last?
There are a lot of factors that determine when you will hit this phase. Even though the average age, like mentioned above, is 45-55 years, yet, your genetic make-up, your body type and health will play a role. The symptoms of menopause, which we will describe in the paragraphs to come, start anywhere between 2-4 years before you have your last period, and might go on till around 5 years after that.
What Does Menopause Do To Your Body?
Just like the beginning of puberty brings about evident physical and psychological changes, the onset of menopause also has the same impacts. While the absence of periods might seems like a great relief, yet, the symptoms of this phase can impact you more than you can think.
Period Problems: One of the most common impacts that the onset of menopause, or what is typically known as perimenopause, is problems in your menstruation. This can range from irregular periods, or changes in your flow - while sometimes you’d experience a very light period, on other occasions, you might experience heavy bleeding. During this phase, it’s important that you be mentally prepared as your periods can arrive without much warning, or be absent for long.
Lack of Sleep or Insomnia: Menopause is characterised by hot flashes, when your upper body feels warm, and night sweats, when you break into a sweat while you are sleeping. It’s obvious therefore that these lead to disturbed sleep cycles, often times causing insomnia.
Vaginal Dryness: Decline in the production of estrogen can lead to genital tract atrophy, which is known to cause problems in the vulva and vaginal region, because of which you might experience swelling of the genital region, vaginal dryness and consequently, painful sexual intercourse.
Urinary Issues: Such issues become very common with advancing age, yet, the impact that menopause has on the urinary system is quite high. If you are going through menopause, you are more susceptible to urinary tract infections or UTIs and you would also have an urge to visit the washroom often, which in medical terms will be explained to you as urinary incontinence.
Mood Swings and Cognitive difficulties: Just like your premenstrual symptoms or PMS as it’s popularly known as, mood swings will become a part of your routine when you hit menopause. Because your body is going through several hormonal changes, it is likely to impact your mood, as well as your cognitive abilities like remembering things.
Physical Changes: While puberty results in a growth spurt, both in terms of your breasts and bodily hair, menopause does the exact opposite. If you find that you need to switch to a smaller bra size, then don’t be worried - it’s probably one of the effects of menopause. It might also lead to hair fall and thinning of hair.
Apart from these, palpitations, regular headaches, muscle and bone pain, stiff joints and weight gain can be clear signals that you are going through menopause.
Early Menopause: The Causes And Impacts?
Menopause is a natural process, so please don’t consider it as a disease or disorder. As the body ages, its ability to produce certain hormones also decreases. Like mentioned before, when the levels of estrogen and progesterone come down, your body prepares itself for a goodbye to periods. However, apart from natural causes, there are a few other reasons why you might have an early menopause.
Hysterectomy: This is the procedure of removing your uterus, ovaries or both. If only your uterus is removed, you will not have menopause immediately, and the transition will be gradual. However, if your uterus and both your ovaries are removed, you will stop producing estrogen and progesterone, will cause immediate menopause.
Cancer Treatments: Chemotherapy and radiation, as you understand, have several radical impacts on your body, one of them being menopause. Sometimes, however, many women observe the return of their periods after a prolonged absence.
Ovarian Issues: Lifestyle and other health issues could cause your ovaries to have issues. Such problems might impact that the production of certain hormones, which in turn trigger the onset of menopause.
Early menopause is often associated with higher risks of cardiovascular diseases, anxiety and depression and psychosexual disorders.
Diagnosis of Menopause
Menopause is clinically confirmed if you are 45 or above and you haven’t had your periods in 12 straight months. Even though this is one way of diagnosing menopause, yet, your gynaecologist is likely to carry out some tests to rule out anything else. During this consultation, your doctor will check for:
Your last period, the kind of flow you experienced and whether it was regular or late.
Medications you are using, if any.
Your symptoms and how long you have been having them for.
Once that is done, your gynecologist might also ask for the following tests:
Vaginal pH levels (women in the reproductive age have a level of 4.5, while a level of 6 could indicate menopause)
A Thyroid Test
Liver Function Test
Kidney Function Test
Even though there are some kits available to check for yourself, yet, it’s always best to consult a reputed gynaecologist for a proper diagnosis.
Will Menopause Impact Your Sex Life?
Menopause causes several of your hormones to be in a state of imbalance. Because your production of estrogen and testosterone (yes, women also have it) has decreased, it might contribute to a lower sex drive. Apart from that, other symptoms such as mood swings and muscular pain might also prevent you from enjoying sex.
Lower production of estrogen could also limit blood supply to your vagina, resulting in swelling and dryness. This could impact sex as well, making it slightly more uncomfortable and painful than usual.
However, you needn’t lose hope! Some studies have suggested that many women report having an increased sexual appetite because of the lower chances of pregnancy. While most women hit menopause after their children-related responsibilities are taken care of, the chances of having more relaxed sex also increases!
Managing Menopause: The Guidelines
The phase of menopause can be quite a challenging one, especially because some of the symptoms will leave your drained and in pain. The first step is to be calm and gather more information about it, so that you can manage the symptoms well. There are some things that you can do to help yourself.
Eat right: Include plenty of calcium and Vitamin D in your diet
Avoid drinking and smoking
Massage your breasts with herbal oils
Use lubricants to have better sex
Do not stop using birth control measures till your doctor asks you to
Keep yourself engaged in activities to help your mood swings
Exercise well to manage your weight gain
Kegel exercises can help with your sex life as well as urinary incontinence
Why Do You Need To Visit A Gynecologist?
You are capable of managing many of the symptoms, but the absence of periods might not necessarily mean menopause. So, it’s essential to confirm the cause and only a gynaecologist can help with that. Apart from that, if your symptoms are severe, your doctor will be able to suggest several treatment options including hormone replacement therapy or HRT to help you.
Please understand that you are not alone in this journey. At the Birthplace, we intend to help you sail through the phase of menopause with maximum comfort and information. Our doctors listen to your concerns and recommend treatments and therapies based on your needs. So, don’t do this alone. Let us join forces with you to help you live your life on your own terms!