Symptoms of menopause
Most women think of menopause as the time of life when their menstrual periods end. This usually occurs during middle age, when women are also experiencing other hormonal and physical changes. For this reason, menopause is sometimes called the "change of life".
What doctors officially call menopause is an event - namely, the point at which you get your last menstrual period. This permanent cessation of menstruation is usually marked by 12 consecutive months of having no periods. Most women experience menopause from 40 to 58 years of age, with a median age of 51.4 years.
A woman is said to be in menopause after she has gone for one full year without periods. While most women in the United States go through menopause around the age of 51, a small number will experience menopause as early as age 40 or as late as their late 50s. Rarely, menopause occurs after age 60. When menopause is diagnosed before age 40, it is considered to be abnormal or premature menopause.
As estrogen levels fall, the vagina's natural lubricants decrease. The lining of the vagina gradually becomes thinner and less elastic (less able to stretch). These changes can cause sex to be uncomfortable or painful. They can also lead to inflammation in the vagina known as atrophic vaginitis. These changes can make a woman more likely to develop vaginal infections from yeast or bacterial overgrowth and urinary tract infections.
Some women report irritability or other mood changes. Irritability is commonly caused by poor sleep resulting from nighttime hot flashes. A number of women, however, do not feel irritable.
As estrogen levels drop and remain low during menopause, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases. The risk is greatest for slender, white or light-skinned women. You can help prevent osteoporosis by getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or a daily multivitamin, eating a diet rich in calcium and performing regular exercise. Women should start taking these actions well before menopause begins. This is because women begin to lose bone mass as early as age 30 but fractures resulting from osteoporosis don't occur until 10 to 15 years after menopause.
Before menopause, women have lower rates of heart attack and stroke than men. After menopause, however, the rate of heart disease in women continues to rise and equals that of men after age 65.
For most women, the diagnosis of menopause is made based on a woman's description of her symptoms and the ending of her menstrual periods. Laboratory testing is not usually needed.
Because women can still become pregnant while they are perimenopausal, doctors may do a pregnancy test when a woman's periods become irregular, infrequent or light. In some cases, a blood test for levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) may be recommended. FSH levels are normally high in menopause, so high FSH levels can help to confirm that a woman is in menopause.
At the time of menopause, doctors often recommend a bone density measurement. The test result sometimes will detect early osteoporosis. More often the result is used as a baseline to compare rate of bone loss in the future.
Another test is endometrial biopsy. An endometrial biopsy is an office procedure in which a tiny piece of endometrial tissue from inside the uterus is taken and examined under a microscope for signs of cancer. This test may be done when a woman is having irregular, frequent or heavy bleeding, but it is not routinely recommended as a test for menopause.
Estrogen taken as a pill or applied to the skin as a patch can reduce hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood changes and vaginal dryness. Estrogen can be prescribed alone when a woman no longer has her uterus. A combination of estrogen and progesterone is used when a woman still has her uterus. Progesterone is necessary to balance estrogen's effect on the uterus and prevent changes that can lead to uterine cancer.
However, recent evidence has shown that there are some risks associated with the use of these medicines. Estrogen therapy can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and blood clots in a small number of women. On the other hand, it prevents fractures and can decrease the risk of colon cancer. Therefore, the decision to use hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause is an individual decision. A woman should talk to her doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy for her.
Medications such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and paroxetine (Paxil) are often the first choice for women with hot flashes who are not on hormone replacement therapy. They relieve the symptoms of hot flashes in 60% of women.
The Gabapentin (Neurontin) moderately effective in treating hot flashes. Gabapentin's main side effect is drowsiness. Taking it at bedtime may help improve sleep while decreasing hot flashes.
Etidronate (Didronel), alendronate (Fosamax) and other similar drugs are the most effective medicines that can be used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis. They increase bone density and decrease the risk of fractures.
Calcitonin - hormone produced by the thyroid gland and helps the body keep and use calcium. A nasal spray form of this drug is used to help prevent bone loss in women at risk. Doctors may prescribe calcitonin to help relieve pain from fractures due to osteoporosis.
There is no relation between the time of a woman's first period and her age at menopause. The age at menopause is not influenced by a woman's race, height, number of children or use of oral contraceptives.
Unpleasant symptoms of premenstrual syndrome
Menstrual cycling in women results from a complex interplay of reproductive hormones that surge and ebb at various points during the course of an approximately lunar month (28 days).
Many women pass through cycle after cycle, blissfully unaware of the rising and falling of these hormones except during the specific several days of bleeding. As many as one-third of the women, however, suffer unpleasant symptoms that correlate with the hormonal fluctuations during especially the last 7 to 14 days of their monthly cycle. For perhaps 1 in 10 of these women, the symptoms--called premenstrual syndrome or PMS--trouble them nearly every month, while other women suffer only intermittently.
Research shows that diet and nutrition play a significant role in the severity of PMS symptoms, and many women could ease their monthly bouts with discomfort simply by changing their diets or taking nutritional supplements.
By researches, as many as one-third of women suffer from PMS-related symptoms as their hormones fluctuate in the last week or two of their monthly cycle.
Research suggests PMS symptoms arise more often in women with high levels of blood estrogen compared to progesterone. PMS could possibly be referred to as estrogen intoxication. However, there are a number of natural ways to deal with such an imbalance and prevent and overcome PMS symptoms.
Increasing evidence shows premenstrual syndrome might also be triggered by dietary deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals, especially magnesium. Red blood cell magnesium levels in PMS patients have been shown to be significantly lower than in normal subjects.
Besides nutritional supplementation, women can help prevent PMS by making changes to their diets. Eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish and green leafy vegetables, is important since omega-3 deficiencies have also been linked to PMS.
Many women accept premenstrual syndrome as a fact of life and merely suffer through it, but there are many natural remedies available to help prevent and treat the aches and pains of PMS. Like all health issues, it just takes the recognition that you can help control the way you feel by giving your body what it needs.
If you have menstrual problems, you may be able to alleviate them with diet. Scientists have long known that food can influence the female hormone estrogen, affecting menstruation, and that carbohydrates are strongly linked to premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Now research reveals surprising new clues about how certain foods and nutrients, including calcium, manganese, and especially dietary fat and cholesterol, may influence menstruation.
For prevention, we advise that a woman reduce her activities as much as possible for the first three days of her period each month, though this might be an unpopular suggestion to most busy women today. For exercise, we recommend a gentle walk rather than jarring aerobics classes at this time.
Although not everyone agrees on exactly why it happens, it is widely accepted that carbohydrates can act as mood elevators, particularly to relieve certain types of depression, such as the blues that come with premenstrual syndrome and the down moods of seasonal affective disorder.
Definitions on this page
- A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.
- Worry or tension in response to real or imagined stress, danger, or dreaded situations. Physical reactions such as fast pulse, sweating, trembling, fatigue, and weakness may accompany anxiety.
- Chlorella is a genus of single-celled green algae, belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta. It is spherical in shape, about 2 to 10 nm in diameter, and is without flagella. Chlorella contains the green photosynthetic pigments chlorophyll-a and -b in its chloroplast. It depends on photosynthesis for growth and multiplies rapidly, requiring only carbon dioxide, water, sunlight, and a small amount of minerals..
- Any one of a group of hormones synthesized by the reproductive organs and adrenal glands in females and, in lesser quantities, in males. The estrogens cause the thickening of the lining of the uterus and vagina in the early phase of the ovulatory, or menstrual, cycle; in lower animals cyclical estrogen secretion also induces estrus, or "heat". The estrogens are also responsible for female secondary sex characteristics such as, in humans, pubic hair and breasts, and they affect other tissues including the genital organs, skin, hair, blood vessels, bone, and pelvic muscles..
- The period marked by the natural and permanent cessation of menstruation, occurring usually between the ages of 45 and 55.
- The time period prior to menopause that may last 10 to 15 years, even beginning in one's 30s. It is associated with decreased ovarian function and decreasing estrogen levels.
- Steroid hormone secreted by the female reproductive system that functions mainly to regulate the condition of the endometrium (see uterus), preparing it to accept a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the level of progesterone drops, the uterine lining breaks down, and menstruation ensues. If the egg is fertilized, the placenta produces progesterone, whose effects include preparing the mammary glands for lactation..
- Bone marrow aspiration, also called bone marrow sampling, is the removal by suction of fluid from the soft, spongy material that lines the inside of most bones. Bone marrow biopsy, or needle biopsy, is the removal of a small piece of bone marrow.
- A period of life characterized by physiological and psychic change that marks the end of the reproductive capacity of women and terminates with the completion of menopause.
- A corresponding period sometimes occurring in men that may be marked by a reduction in sexual activity, although fertility is retained.
- In psychiatry, a symptom of mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, failure, and rejection.
- Any one of a group of hormones synthesized by the reproductive organs and adrenal glands in females and, in lesser quantities, in males.
- A substance, usually a peptide or steroid, produced by one tissue and conveyed by the bloodstream to another to effect physiological activity, such as growth or metabolism.
- A disease in which the bones become extremely porous, are subject to fracture, and heal slowly, occurring especially in women following menopause and often leading to curvature of the spine from vertebral collapse.
- The syndrome occurs in several distinct forms: emotional upheaval, including anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depression, forgetfulness, confusion, and lethargy; cravings for sweets, increased appetite, and intolerance to sugar (headache, heart palpitations, fatigue, and fainting); and fluid retention symptoms with weight gain, puffiness of hands and feet, breast swelling and tenderness, and abdominal bloating and tenderness. Some women suffer with symptoms of all these forms, others only a few..
- A drug prepared from natural or synthetic progesterone, used in the prevention of miscarriage, in the treatment of menstrual disorders, and as a constituent of some oral contraceptives.
- A female hormone that acts on the inner lining of the uterus and prepares it for implantation of the fertilized egg.
- A state of extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain.
- A physical and psychological response that results from being exposed to a demand or pressure.
- A white crystalline steroid hormone, C19H28O2, produced primarily in the testes and responsible for the development and maintenance of male secondary sex characteristics. It is also produced synthetically for use in medical treatment.