Menopause affects all women around their fifties. It is not a disease; rather, it is a normal part of life. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about the causes, symptoms and treatments of menopause.

 

MenopauseMenopause is something that is going to affect all women once they reach the age of around 50 and, not surprisingly, it will affect their partners as well.

The first thing to say about menopause – and this is extremely important – is that it is not a disease or an illness or something you can catch. Menopause is a part of life in much the same way as menarche (the beginning of periods, which occurs for girls somewhere between 10 and 15 years of age). Menopause actually means secession or end of period, and that is exactly what it is. In this respect, it is fairly simple.

In some respects, menopause is a day. You can say, “Ok, I had my last period on this day – that was menopause.” However, there are other changes that occur around this time that also make up menopause. These changes occur because there is a decrease in oestrogen and progesterone circulating in the bloodstream. Essentially, a woman is reaching the end of her reproductive life, so she can’t have any more children after that. There have been some things done with IVF (in vitro fertilisation) – you’ve probably seen reports of that – but, in the normal and natural course of things, by the time women are getting into their middle to high 40s, they are not usually in the position to have any more children, and that’s arguably the way nature intended it.

So as the hormone levels drop, women will stop producing eggs. As a consequence of that, the cycle and the periods stop. Some women will experience “symptoms” when they move toward menopause. Hot flushes is the one you hear about the most: everyone else is shivering, it’s freezing cold, and a woman will say that she’s really hot and sweating. Some women find they get a little bit irritable and they made get a bit moody or cranky. Some women will find that their skin may get a little bit dryer, their hair may get dryer, and some experience dryness around the vagina as well. Some women experience a degree of anxiety, headaches or nausea. There are no specific symptoms associated with menopause; some women do not experience any and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Up until about 6 or 7 years ago, it was pretty much standard practice for all women to be recommended hormone replacement therapy (HRT) post-menopause. This came about in the 1980s, and a lot of it was to do with treating osteoporosis. It was subsequently found in the 2000s that the risks associated with hormone replacement over the longer term – more than 4 or 5 years – were actually greater than the benefits. That doesn’t mean that for some women there may not be a role for hormone replacement, but it is really only prescribed if she experiences symptoms that warrant it, and it should be a relatively short-term treatment. This is something you should check and discuss with your doctor.

There is a period of time called peri-menopause, which is at or around the time of menopause. Peri-menopause is when periods may become erratic. One may get periods for a few months, then not for a few months, then again for a month or two – basically a bit all over the place! This is quite normal.

There are other things that can be done to ease the symptoms associated with menopause. There are some natural treatments that are popular, including the red clover leaf, primrose oil and Chinese herbs. Again, have a chat to your doctor about these options.

Menopause is a really important time of your life to be looking after your general health. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water and do some regular exercise. These things are also going to help you get through menopause.

Another things that is quite important but often doesn’t get a lot of airplay is attitude. If you regard menopause as a real problem and become anxious, it is likely that you will feel worse about it. In Indian cultures, women look forward to menopause as they see it as a time of getting wiser, and it’s actually celebrated. In Australia, we have a more youth-oriented culture, and we tend to be more fearful of menopause. It is important to recognise that menopause is just another part of life – a transition to the next stage. Adopt this attitude towards menopause will likely be helpful to you.

So, to sum up: menopause is not a disease. Some women may get some symptoms or have issues with it. If you do, there are a number of ways of approaching it. Above all else, menopause is a part of life; it’s just a transition to the next chapter in your life.

More information

Menopause For more information on menopause, including symptoms and management of menopause, as well as some useful animations and videos, see Menopause.