For certain women, menopause – a period marking the end of menstrual cycles for 12 continuous months – may come as an expected change at the age of 51. Usually lasting about seven years, the transition may extend beyond that time frame in some cases.
Later life usually brings about various physical transformations, many of which are associated with menopause and include cessation of periods. A few of these effects may be quite uncomfortable, like hot flashes, while others might go unnoticed.
Below you can get a deeper grasp of the physical and mental implications of menopause and some regularly experienced symptoms.
Common Signs of Menopause
Here are some common signs to watch out for:
- Mood fluctuations: As women go through menopause, their emotions often swing from joy to discontentment and even melancholy.
- Insomnia: Experts attribute nighttime insomnia to a decrease in estrogen levels, which disrupts your regular sleep routine.
- Cessation of periods: Since menopause arrives when your monthly cycle has come to an end, you no longer experience any of the associated symptoms that accompany your period. This usually includes an absence of spotting.
- Painful intercourse: Women who still experience a craving for intimacy may nonetheless feel discomfort during intercourse. Intercourse may be a painful ordeal for some.
- Reduced sex drive: Estrogen levels decline with age and this can lead to uncomfortable side effects such as vaginal dryness and low sex drive.
- Vaginal dryness: As your changing hormones lead to a shift in reproductive phase, your body reduces the production level of natural lubricant, thereby causing vaginal dryness.
- Bone fractures: As part of the menopausal process, bone density may decrease, resulting in an elevated risk of broken bones. It is vital to be aware of this increased fragility and take the necessary steps to reduce the odds of sustaining a fracture.
- Hot flashes: Sudden spikes in body temperature can cause flushed skin and redness anytime, anywhere.
- Night sweats: Excessive perspiration during sleep, often accompanying hot flashes, can leave you waking up drenched in sweat.
- Weight gain: An imbalance in hormones may lead to the body’s decreased ability to eliminate fat, thus creating an accumulation of extra pounds.
- Frequent urination: Estrogen imbalance and fluctuations in this hormone can lead to more frequent trips to the bathroom.
By understanding how menopausal transition affects the body and mind, we can better identify and categorize the associated signs and symptoms. This improved understanding empowers us to tackle these oftentimes challenging changes.
Effects of Menopause on the Physical State of Health
A woman’s reproductive health depends heavily on estrogen and progesterone. Aging can result in anovulation and irregular menstrual cycles due to dysfunction of the ovaries.
As time passes, the ovaries stop the process of ovulation faithfully. Eventually, this leads to the final cessation of regular menstrual cycles. Subsequently, the result is a significant decline in estrogen and progesterone secretion by the ovaries.
Menopause officially sets in after a woman experiences one-year missed periods, typically within the age group of mid-40s to mid-50s. The transition can take several years to complete.
Menopause marks the termination of child-bearing prospects. However, it’s not just the drop in estrogen levels that brings about change – it can spark bodily side effects too.
The onset of menopause is signaled by perimenopause, a journey marked by change in your monthly cycle. While the early stages are prominent, true menopause is only achieved when your periods stop completely, signifying the end of egg production for conception.
Women who no longer experience shedding of unfertilized eggs no longer go through the physiological process of menstruation.
Menopause affects much more than the menstrual cycle. There is an absence of thickening cervical mucus, which is typically a sign of ovulation.
The onset of menopause can cause noticeable changes in the body, including vaginal dryness and a lack of sexual desire. However, these effects do not have to be permanent, as making use of certain over-the-counter products can help to alleviate symptoms.
For women dealing with a decrease in sex drive during menopause, speaking with an OB-GYN can greatly assist in finding ways to boost their interest in intimacy again.
Reproductive hormones make up part of the endocrine structure. During menopause, though, these vital hormones vanish from the scene, particularly causing hot flashes which can last for several years afterwards.
Unexpected hot flashes can appear anytime, whether it’s during the day or night, and can last for mere seconds to several minutes. They come with a feeling of warmth along with flushed skin and perspiration.
Alterations to daily habits are essential for hot flush avoidance and management. Cutting out stimulants like coffee and tea can be of great help in this regard.
Incorporating routines focused on awareness, such as meditation and hypnotherapy, may provide aid in alleviating hot flashes.
During and after menopause, women begin to find it more difficult to lose weight and unhealthy weight tends to accumulate near the midsection. This is due to an energy-conservation system activated by menopause which makes it increasingly hard to burn calories and fat.
Immune and Excretory Systems
The decline in estrogen levels may lead to a serious medical issue called incontinence, for which one can start experiencing involuntary urine leakage when doing simple activities like laughing, exercising, or sneezing. Furthermore, the constant urges or even need to visit the restroom more often can seriously impair sleep quality.
Estrogens bring about a cardioprotective effect for the body, meaning that if estrogen levels decrease, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases.
This drop may have an effect on the body’s cholesterol levels, potentially increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. To prevent and reduce these issues, your healthcare provider could recommend hormone replacement therapy.
Skeletal and Muscular Systems
As women go through menopause, their bones become weaker and they become more likely to sustain fractures due to reducing bone density. Moreover, menopausal women are even more prone to developing osteoporosis.
As women experience menopause, it is common to experience a decline in muscle mass and joint discomfort. Exercise can help prevent loss of bone density, maintain muscle mass, and reduce joint pain symptoms.
Effects of Menopause on the Mental State of Health
During the menopausal transition, several mental alterations can be observed as well. As such, scientists have observed dramatic changes in the female brain that take place over a four-year span surrounding a woman’s final menstrual period.
These studies mimic real-life hormone fluctuations experienced during this natural process, giving us greater insight into the effects of dwindling estrogen levels.
Menopause can impact a person’s outlook on life, causing a rollercoaster of emotions. One day they may feel well-balanced and happy, while the next they might find themselves struggling with varying states of unhappiness.
It’s a well-known fact that menopause can bring tumultuous emotional ups and downs. These moods often include periods of irritability. If the anxiety or depression continues for more than a few weeks, it’s important to talk to a doctor, as menopause can serve as a catalyst in the onset of depression.
During menopause, quality sleep can be compromised due to fluctuating estrogen levels. Hot flashes and night sweats can keep you up at night, making it hard to get the rest you need. These symptoms can have a significant effect on nighttime slumber.
As menopause sets in, women regularly face cognitive deteriorations, which come through in the form of trouble remembering, slower verbal memory processing rate, and the difficulty to acquire new knowledge through verbal medium. Recent studies suggest that factors like age, hot flashes, depressive moods, stress levels and perceived health can largely predict the intensity of memory-related issues.
Women of a certain age typically display slight yet normal fluctuations in mental memory, knowledge comprehension, and speed of thought processing. However, it is helpful to remember that once past menopause often these cognitive abilities will restore to their usual state.
Change in Brain Structure
Women who are undergoing their menopause transition often display distinct modifications in the structure of their brain compared to their male counterparts of the same age group. These neurological differences can manifest into various red flags such as mood swings, depression, uneasiness and even Alzheimer’s disease for some women.
Researchers conducted a study with females who had monitors strapped to them and reported results which showed that those with more regular hot flashes were likelier to exhibit changes to the brain associated with ischemia than those with fewer. These findings hint that these minor strokes could have a substantial effect on intellect.
This raises the question: might alleviating hot flashes negate or minimize the white matter changes? While experts have faith this is probable, more research is required to give the definitive answer.
As menopausal hormone levels decrease, the brain facilitates a compensatory adjustment. Consequently, menopausal signs like hot flushes often become less severe within two to seven years of initial onset. This adaptation may explain why such disturbances diminish over time.
Neuroimaging research indicates impressive outcomes in postmenopausal women. Gray matter volume sees rejuvenation back to similar levels to male counterparts of the same age. This breakthrough stands to reason, especially when considering gray matter concentration in certain portions of the brain linked with memory and higher cognitive processes. Moreover, these areas appear to expand over the course of several years following the transitional period.
During menopause, an accelerated rate of brain volume is associated with higher memory scores in the precuneus. This area is affected by hormone balance, similarly to how it changes during pregnancy – another biologically specific female stage marked by both neurological and hormonal shifts.
The volume of white matter in the brain of such women starts to decline and does not bounce back. Yet, even after menopause, female brains show increased structural connectivity and enhanced myelination within certain parts. This phenomenon could be linked to a better functioning neural network that develops in post-menopausal women.