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Menopause: Physical and Psychological Aspects

Women experience frequent hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives. From puberty to pregnancy, postpartum and finally menopause, a woman’s hormonal journey is nothing less than a roller coaster ride. These hormonal fluctuations not only affect them physically, but they also experience psychological challenges. Menopause is the last stop to this hormonal expedition.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycle. It is diagnosed after you have gone through 12 months without a menstrual cycle. It is a natural part of biological aging.

Menopause Transition

The years leading to menopause women experience changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, and other symptoms. This stage in menstrual cycles is called menopause transition or perimenopause. Women are advised to see a gynecologist in Fatima Memorial Hospital when they start experiencing menopausal symptoms to make this transition smooth.

When does perimenopause begin?

The transition most often begins between the age of 45 and 55 years. It usually lasts for 7 years but can stretch to 14 years. The duration depends on various factors such as  smoking, race, ethnicity and the age it begins.  During perimenopause, production of estrogen and progesterone varies greatly.

Types of Menopause

  • Natural menopause: It occurs when ovaries slowly stop functioning and as a result menstruation finally stops. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
  • Premature or Early menopause: Premature menopause occurs when a woman stops menstruating before 40. Early menopause is the one that occurs before 45. The reason can be smoking, heavy drinking, endocrine disorders, chemotherapy, chromosomal defects, autoimmune diseases or thyroid disease.
  • Surgical or Induced menopause: It is brought on by a deliberate action like surgery or medicines that affect ovaries’ functioning. The reasons behind getting an induced menopause vary.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Menopause

  • Hot flashes, when you have sudden feelings of hot or cold in your face, neck and chest which makes you dizzy.
  • Difficulty in sleeping, which may be a result of night sweats and keeps you tired and irritable during the day.
  • Palpitations, when your heartbeats become suddenly noticeable.
  • Changes in menstrual cycle, when periods may not be as regular or may be longer or shorter in duration. If you notice spotting after 12 months of not having periods, visit a gynecologist in Itefaq Hospital to rule out the causes.
  • Vaginal dryness happens due to decreased production of estrogen and progesterone. It may also cause low libido.
  • Vulvar itching includes itching, stinging or burning sensation around the vulva. This may also cause women to feel like they need to urinate more often.
  • Recurrent UTIs are also a result of low levels of estrogen and changes in the urinary tract.
  • Vaginal Atrophy is caused by a decline in estrogen, it is characterized by the thinning and inflammation of vaginal walls.
  • Osteoporosis is also linked to the lack of estrogen. After menopause, bone breakdown overtakes the building of new bones.
  • Increase in cardiovascular diseases is also due to decline in estrogen production among post menopausal women. This is because estrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layers of the artery wall, which helps keep blood vessels flexible.

Psychological Aspects of Menopause

Changes in your hormones during menopause can impact your mental health as well as physical health. Increased risk for psychiatric morbidity is seen especially in women who experienced early menopause or surgical menopause.

  • Depression

The incidence of depression doubles during this time. Women who have struggled in the past with depression might also see resurgence in symptoms.

  • Anxiety

Studies show that women are more likely to experience anxiety or panic attacks during or after the menopausal transition. Somehow hot flashes and panic attacks look and feel similar. One way to distinguish is that hot flashes do not make you feel short of breath, while panic attacks may.

  • Irritability and mood swings

Changes in your physical health at the time of menopause may cause frequent fluctuations in your mood. Mood shifts during perimenopause and menopause are often mild. A vast majority of women who develop significant mood issues during or after menopause, have had them in the past.

Bottom line

Although menopause is a natural process, it can be physically and mentally taxing for women experiencing it. Constant physical and emotional support should be provided by family and friends to help them cope with this change in their body.