It’s inevitable, all women who live beyond the age of 55 will experience menopause. Yet, what I observe in clinic is that many women fear it. So, let’s break down menopause, get clear on what it is and hopefully lift some of the associated fear. Every woman’s experience with menopause is unique, including when it happens and how it feels.
When it Happens:
It’s technically a retrospective diagnosis made after 12 months without a period. This may take place anywhere between the ages of 40 and 55, however in the West 50 – 51 years is considered average.
Menopause takes place when the body’s natural secretion of testosterone, oestradiol (the principal form of oestrogen pre-menopause) and progesterone reduce. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) begin to increase due to diminished ovarian hormone output and it’s this cascade that leads to irregular, unpredictable cycles and eventually the last cycle.
The time of unpredictability prior to menopause is known as perimenopause, which can last for many years. During perimenopause it’s very common for women to note short menstrual cycles interspersed by unusually long cycles as well as other common symptoms which come about as a change in hormonal patterns.
How it Feels:
- The most common sign of perimenopause is a change in cycle length that can’t be explained by another possible cause such as pregnancy, primary ovarian failure, surgery, or chemotherapy.
- ‘Hot flushes’ are also commonplace with evidence showing that as much as 83% of Australian women experience these. In the literature these are described as ‘intense heat spreading over the body’ because of reproductive hormonal changes. If you’ve experienced hot flushes, you will know about it.
- Urogenital symptoms including vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and vaginal/bladder infections are also very common.
- As a result of declining oestradiol and progesterone other common symptoms include increased visceral fat, reduction in muscle mass, loss of bone mineral density, sleep disturbance, anxiety, low mood, brain fog, joint pain, loss of hair and a loss of libido.
Despite these symptoms being common they needn’t be feared because every woman’s experience is so different and because diet and lifestyle can do so much to affect their severity.
Let’s also acknowledge that the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause double as risk factors for serious conditions including osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Serious conditions that are avoidable or reversable through the right diet and lifestyle choices.
If you want immediate support for what you suspect are perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms, then please get in touch. In the next article in this series I’ll share the diet and lifestyle shifts you can use to support your symptoms and mitigate risk of complications.
Deecher DC, Dorries K. Understanding the pathophysiology of vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) that occur in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause life stages. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2007;10(6):247-257. doi:10.1007/s00737-007-0209-5