With old age you may go through many health problems. There are always little, nitpicky issues and in the midst of your daily routine, you may fail to notice health concerns or neglect them completely. It is highly necessary to set aside time to reflect on how you are affected with age. The subject of menstruation is highly stigmatized, especially in South Asia. If you are a woman in your late 40s or know someone in their late 40s (possibly your mother or a relative), educating yourself about menopause is necessary, as it is an integral part of a women’s life cycle. We hear the word menopause thrown around quite often, but do not really know what it entails. So what is menopause? And what are some of the key menopause symptoms?
In simple words, menopause is the end of the menstrual cycle. When a woman has not menstruated in 12 consecutive months, it marks the onset of her menopause. Menopause begins naturally after the age of 45, some can experience the symptoms in their early 40s. The symptoms of menopause vary from person to person, but common symptoms include hot flashes, weight gain, and vaginal dryness. It can also lead to anxiety, mood swings, and a reduced sex drive in women.
Although menopause is a phenomenon that occurs in half of the world’s population, there is a low rate of reported symptoms of menopause in South Asian women. Asian women have a habit of not visiting the doctor unless the symptoms they endure are critical. They often look past issues like mental stress, mood swings, irregular periods etc. like it is trivial. We need to understand that menopause is not a health condition and does not require medical treatment. However, learning what one might physically and mentally go through during this period can help women, as well as their loved ones, prepare for this new phase of their life. With the disruption in the menstrual cycle, there are a lot of possible health risks a woman’s body is exposed to.
Menopause symptoms start appearing about three to four years before a woman’s last period and continue for a few years even after the menstrual cycle stops. Symptoms of menopause that occur before the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle permanently are called Perimenopause. This is the time when levels of estrogen in a womans body start to decline. Estrogen is a hormone that promotes development and maintenance of female attributes of the body. Perimenopause starts when women approach their mid-40’s.
Symptoms that continue even after a woman’s menstrual cycle stops are called postmenopausal symptoms. In the postmenopausal stage, women experience the most symptoms of menopause. Some of the major symptoms are:
- Irregular periods: Do you track your periods or notice when you miss a period? If not, start today because noting down your menstrual cycles helps to predict your next cycle or notice patterns of menopausal symptoms. With the onset of the perimenopausal stage, estrogen levels in women start declining rapidly. Ovulation cycles become irregular and the flow of period changes immensely. Irregular periods become a common occurrence in perimenopausal women.
- Vaginal dryness and decreased libido: Asian women tend to shy away when it comes to discussing issues like sexual desire and vaginal dryness. But with age various issues arise in sexual activity and functions in a woman’s body. Vaginal tissues start to lose elasticity and lubrication with age due to lower estrogen levels, that makes intercourse painful. Vaginal dryness and decreased sexual desire in perimenopausal women are quite natural.
- Hot flashes and Sleep problems: You may experience a disrupted sleeping cycle due to night sweats, chills and hot flashes during your menopausal stage. However, the intensity and frequency of these flashes vary from women to women. As much as we hate them, they are a common occurrence amongst women in their late 40’s.
- Mood change:As a menopausal woman, if you feel like you are more emotional, moody or irritable than usual, do not dwell on it. It is the most common symptom that is linked to perimenopausal stage. Feeling restless and temperamental during the perimenopausal stage is linked with the occurrence of hot flashes, irregular sleep patterns and hormonal imbalance. It is very important to take care of your mental health during the menopausal stage as you can become highly susceptible to depression.
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism: Have you noticed when you start to age, it is harder for you to digest certain foods and quite easy to gain weight? Well it is not out of the ordinary to experience slowed metabolism with age. The muscle starts losing volume and the distribution of fat starts changing. It is a common symptom of menopause to gain fat, especially in the abdomen area and lower body.
What are the health risks involved with menopause?
The risks and the degree of impact of some health conditions post-menopause is higher than normal. Lets discuss some of the major health risks involved with the onset of menopausal period:
- Osteoporosis: Post-menopausal women are highly susceptible to lower bone density, also known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to lose density, making them brittle and fragile. With the onset of perimenopausal period, a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen. The lack of estrogen in the body makes menopausal women more vulnerable to osteoporosis related bone fractures. However, with a diet rich in Calcium and Vitamin D like spinach, egg, milk, etc, the process of bone thinning can be slowed down. Usually just diet is not enough, women are prescribed Calcium and Vitamin D supplements to compensate for their insufficient nutritional needs.
- Urinary Incontinence: You may experience a sudden urge to urinate frequently and leakages while sneezing, coughing, laughing, and physical activities during menopause. The decline in estrogen level causes the vagina and urethra to lose elasticity. That causes the muscles around the pelvic area to lose tone. And, you might develop Urinary Tract Infections often.
- Heart Diseases: If you are a woman with cardiovascular diseases running in the family, it is critical to get timely consultation. The risk of heart diseases for perimenopausal women is increased. With the depletion in the level of estrogen, the blood vessels start to stiffen. The drastic hormonal changes that occur in menopausal women can highly influence cardiovascular risk in the form of elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Menopause is not a disease, so what can be done to control the symptoms of menopause?
The physical and mental health of women change during menopause. If you are a menopausal woman, you require much more than just a gynecologist’s consultation. A healthy lifestyle on your part can help you manage your symptoms as well as lower your health risks. Quitting negative habits like smoking and drinking can reduce hot flashes and the risk of heart diseases substantially. Maintaining a diet highly rich in Vitamin D and Calcium can be extremely helpful in reducing risks of bone deformation as well as long term health problems. Being physically active can be effective in managing mental health as well as cardiovascular health. A few changes in your lifestyle along with some screening tests can allow you to manage symptoms of menopause.
Some women cruise through this time of life with no inconveniences, however, most women experience its signs mildly to severely. If you are a woman experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, help and consultations are widely available.
At TDO Labs, we offer online doctor consultation as well as various packages for screening tests. Through our Doctor on Call feature, you can easily inquire with our health professionals, anytime through text, video call or phone call. We offer specific screenings targeted to women of all ages and also tests for women of older age.
Above all, it is important to understand that this is a time when a woman’s body deserves some extra care. It is not uncommon for the body to go through drastic changes, but it is beneficial to learn about the risks and stay conscious.