If you’re a woman, menopause is like death and taxes; pretty much inevitable. When you reach your middle years, unless you’ve had a medical issue that’s affected your reproductive system such as having to have your ovaries removed, at some point your periods will become less regular, and you might start to experience any of a range of other symptoms.
It can be an emotionally and physically challenging time in a woman’s life, but you don’t need to feel helpless in the face of these changes. You can manage the process to help reduce the effects it has on you and keep a smile on your face.
What is menopause?
Menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years, confirmed when you haven’t had a period for at least 12 months. The time when symptoms first start is called perimenopause, and it can last for several years as your body gradually slows down production of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for regulating your monthly menstrual cycle, so as the hormone levels start to fluctuate, your periods become irregular, increasing or decreasing in frequency and eventually ceasing altogether.
Once this process begins, the fluctuating hormone levels also cause other physical and mental effects, the severity of which varies enormously between different women. Emotional problems may arise, typically mood swings, irritability, depression, and feeling overwrought. You may suddenly burst into tears for no reason that makes sense, or lash out in a fit of temper that seems to come from nowhere.
These disturbances are caused by the effects of the hormone levels rising, falling, and working against one another instead of in harmony. Hormones are powerful substances that control all your bodily functions, and any imbalance or fluctuation in hormone levels is bound to have significant effects on your wellbeing.
Physical symptoms you could experience include:
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Change in libido
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of bone density
What medical treatments are available for menopause?
The main treatment for menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If your doctor thinks your symptoms warrant treatment with HRT, they’ll prescribe a course of synthetic hormones to replace the estrogen and progesterone that your body is no longer making. These replacement hormones restore the functions affected by the loss of your natural hormones and help control the unpleasant aspects of going through menopause.
The synthetic hormones prescribed by your doctor are close to being a match to the natural hormones, but there are differences which some doctors believe makes them less effective and presents a higher risk to women. These clinicians use what are known as bio-identical hormones, which are manufactured from plants and are exact replicas of the naturally occurring estrogen and progesterone.
If you want to try bio-identical HRT, you may need to find a specialist treatment center, but make sure the physician you consult has the knowledge and experience to advise you and manage your health without causing you any harm. Most health insurance plans don’t yet cover the use of bio-identical HRT, so you may have to pay for the treatment yourself.
If that’s a problem financially, consider the possible benefits you could gain from the treatment and how important it is to invest in your health. There are credit options available that could give you the wherewithal to at least try the treatment and see if it helps; just have a look at this page for details of affordable borrowing options.
Some women can’t take HRT, most often because of pre-existing health conditions, or a history of blood clots.
Are there any alternatives to HRT?
There are very few effective alternatives offered by conventional medicine for women who can’t or don’t want to use HRT. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds may help with mood problems, and sleeping tablets could improve your ability to get to sleep, but they don’t help all women, and may even make you feel worse.
There are various herbal remedies and supplements that you can try, and many women do benefit from using alternative therapies. There’s no harm in trying alternative or complementary treatments, provided you are careful about where the product has come from and what’s in it, to ensure it’s safe for you to take.
Always read the label carefully to check for any contra-indications that mean you shouldn’t use the product, and before you buy anything, see if you can find out some independent information about it. All sorts of claims may be made by the manufacturer, so it’s useful to know whether the remedy has helped real menopausal women like you.
Coming to terms with what menopause means
Men don’t have to face a loss of fertility in the same way as women, because although they know their fertility declines as they age, they don’t reach a cutoff point in the same way a woman does when she reaches menopause. The reality that you can no longer bear children and the undeniable truth that you’re entering middle age can be distressing experiences for many women. It’s a tough truth to face, but there is no getting around it. The only way to manage any negative feelings you have about reaching this stage in your life is to try and focus on all the positive changes that happen during this transition period, and all the great opportunities and experiences yet to come.
Like the menstrual cycle, menopause isn’t an illness; but it can make you feel very unwell and miserable. The best course of action is to look after your general health and wellbeing. The healthy living advice of taking regular exercise and eating a nutritious diet aren’t just platitudes; they’re powerful tools in maintaining good health and minimizing the effects of menopause. Learn to take de-stressing and relaxation seriously and make time for yourself. Avoid putting yourself under unnecessary strain, and make sure your family and friends know you’d appreciate their help and understanding.
If you’re struggling with your menopause experience, be kind to yourself and accept that you need to make some allowances for feeling below par some of the time; but be assured there is an exciting new future awaiting you.