Next to the beginning of menstrual period (menarche), and childbirth, menopause is one of the most important landmarks in a woman life. It signifies the cessation of the menstrual period. This is not just an event but a process and experts have rightly divided it into 3 phases of peri-menopause, menopause, and post menopause. The events in menopause have a great impact in the life of the woman.
Central in the process of menopause is the depletion of oocytes in the ovary, and failure of ovarian function. The ovaries produce oocytes which are the eggs released by women during ovulation. The number of these oocytes are fixed in the female child even before birth and are not replenished. It is therefore not surprising that there will come a time when they will be depleted in the ovaries.
This depletion make the ovaries unresponsive to stimulations from the pituitary glands to produce hormones important in reproduction like progesterone and estrogen.
The 3 stages of menopause coincide with the beginning of the process of ovarian failure (irregular and scanty periods) till it totally fails and the menstrual cycle stops completely. Experts believe that the age of menopause appears to be genetically determined and is unaffected by race, socioeconomic status, age at menarche, or number of prior ovulation. However, lifestyle factors that are toxic to the ovary like smoking often result in an earlier age of menopause. Menopause can start anytime from 40 years, and the exact age and experience varies, however, the average age of menopause is between 40 and 58; years, and the average age in the developed world is 51 years.
The symptoms of menopause occur as a result of ovarian failure and depletion in ovarian hormones; there is also symptoms due to the psychological reaction to events of menopause, and the process of aging itself that occurs together with menopause. At 60 years, most women are well into menopause and may have already experienced the early symptoms of peri-menopause like irregular periods and declining fertility. Like has been earlier stated, their symptoms would be influenced by the aging process itself and psycho-social factors. They are:
- Absence of menstrual periods
- Hot flushes, mostly at night
- mood swings,
- difficulty in sleeping
- dry vagina,
- reduced sex drive (libido)
- itching during sex
- difficulty concentrating and occasional poor memory
- urinary incontinence (inability to hold urine)
- weight gain
- reduced metabolism
- palpitations (feeling of awareness of heartbeat)
- osteoporotic symptoms like joint stiffness, aches and pains
- recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- thinning of hair
- dry skin
- loss of breast fullness
What to do
If you are menopausal and experience these symptoms, do book an appointment with your primary care physician to be checked out. Drugs may be prescribed for you to and also you may need to effect some lifestyle changes.