Menopause is a natural condition signalling a change in the woman’s reproductive system as hormone levels change. It is diagnosed following an absence of the menstrual period for 12 months. As oestrogen levels decline, women’s ovaries stop releasing eggs to be fertilised each month until ovulation and menstruation stops completely and women can no longer get pregnant. Menopause is a natural biological process but the physical and psychological symptoms can prove to be disruptive. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments available for menopause management.
Menopause symptoms begin to appear when women reach the ages of 45-55 as menstrual periods become irregular and decline. The average age of menopause is 51. As oestrogen declines, women experience perimenopause for an average of four years before menstruation stops completely when menopause is diagnosed. Early menopause can be caused by medical treatments like hysterectomy and breast cancer treatment such as Tamoxifen, as well as genetics and ovary health.
During this time, months or years leading up to menopause, you will notice physical and mental changes as your hormone levels change. Not only is oestrogen vital for fertility, but it also affects the brain, skin, bones, liver and heart.
Every woman’s menopause experience is unique. Changes in female hormone levels affect mental health. Oestrogen affects the brain by regulating the part of the brain that releases feel-good chemicals. During menopause, less oestrogen is being released so you may experience depression or anxiety. Oestrogen also helps the brain to manage body temperature. As a result, low oestrogen hormone levels can lead to hot flashes and night sweats.
Psychological symptoms can come as a result of physical ones; night sweats can interrupt and break quality sleep leaving you with anxiety and a change in mood. As a result, physical symptoms can be uncomfortable, affect confidence and have a detrimental effect on intimate relationships. Which will only resolve to take yet another toll on mental health during perimenopause and menopause.
During menopause, it is common to experience irritability, sadness, lack of motivation, aggressiveness, concentration problems, stress and depression. Brain fog, forgetfulness and difficulty focusing and thinking are also commonly experienced. This is because low oestrogen levels disturbs activity in the hippocampus, the memory processing part of the brain.
Declining oestrogen levels can also disturb pre-existing depression and anxiety making those symptoms more prominent, which could cause a relapse or further psychological discomfort.
The physical effects of menopause can be felt as oestrogen levels decline. You may notice your periods become irregular, menstrual periods can start to have longer cycles with delayed frequency or periods can be closer together, and you may notice a lighter or heavier flow. Changes in menstruation can vary among women.
Oestrogen is vital for the natural lubrication of the vagina and as levels decline you may experience vaginal dryness, vaginal skin thinning and discomfort/inflammation. You may also experience increased urinary tract infections (UTI’s), stress incontinence, weight changes as metabolism begins to slow down and joint discomfort.
Skin quality is influenced by oestrogen by maintaining collagen production and thickness to maintain a youthful appearance. As oestrogen levels decline, the skin changes and becomes more dry, thin and skin laxity occurs which accelerates the appearance of ageing.
Oestrogen is vital for bone health. When this hormone declines, bones become weaker and the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis increases. Oestrogen is also important for managing cholesterol in the liver to protect the heart. After menopause, cardiovascular problems become more of a risk if health is not managed optimally.
Other factors that impact the severity and duration of physical symptoms include certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking.
Our team of GP’s specialising in women’s health can support you as you experience the changes of menopause. Our doctors at Bodyvie can offer you treatment tailored to your needs to restore hormone balance so you can regain a sense of wellbeing.
Common symptoms of menopause include:
Menopause cannot be prevented but its symptoms can be lessened with a healthy lifestyle of a balanced diet, regular exercise, managing your weight, limited alcohol consumption, adequate calcium intake and no smoking.