Menopause is a natural and inevitable occurrence for women, yet there is still some confusion as to how to deal with the symptoms that may range from merely inconvenient to severely altering an individual’s everyday life.
The following are the five most common and significant symptoms of menopause, the possible complications of menopause and the current methods of managing menopause symptoms.
- Hot Flashes
Possibly the most well-known menopause symptom, hot flashes are a comic relief fixture. However, hot flashes are very disruptive to a woman experiencing menopause. Hot flashes can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, and they typically occur in the first two years after the last menstrual cycle.
Indications of a hot flash include:
- Accelerated heart beat
- Tingling fingers
- Flushed face
- Warm skin
Since hot flashes during menopause are caused by hormonal fluctuations, synthetic estrogen hormones along with progestin can be administered via pill, vaginal gel or cream or a patch. Non-hormonal medications such as the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) or a nerve-mediated pain reducer called pregabalin or gabapentin can also be used.
- Incontinence or Frequent Urination
The muscle and tissue of the urethra thins during menopause and also loses its elasticity to cause changes in the urinary tract.
Indications of urinary changes caused by menopause:
- Urine leakage caused by sudden movement, laughing or coughing
- Waking up several times to urinate
- A sudden and strong urge to urinate
Treatments such as the following treat incontinence or frequent urination:
- Hormone Therapy
- Estrogen applied externally
- Pelvic muscle exercises
- Medical devices such as a pessary device
- Reducing bladder stimulants such as caffeine
Medications and surgery to remedy bladder issues are also used in severe cases.
- Vaginal Atrophy
Reduced estrogen production can cause the vaginal walls to become inflamed or thin. This condition causes dryness, itching, urinary issues and uncomfortable sex. Treatments for vaginal atrophy include estrogen creams applied to the vagina to restore the hormones, hormone replacement therapy, and over-the-counter lubricants.
- Changes in Skin and Hair
Hormonal changes in the body causes a number of changes in the skin. Testosterone is more active in the body due to the reduction of estrogen, so oily skin and acne is oftentimes an issue. Since estrogen regulates fat distribution in the body, the reduction of distributive fat affects appearance in the face, neck, arms, hands and breasts by causing it to sag and form wrinkles.
Elastosis is another skin condition related to menopause—lowered estrogen levels detracts from skin elasticity and can cause cracks in the skin. Reduced blood flow to the skin can cause dry and dull skin, and age spots can also occur from the reduced role estrogen plays in controlling melanin.
Hair is prone to thin during menopause; it does not happen immediately but often is a gradual decline. Oestrogen in the body controls the body’s growth cycle, so the reduced amount of estrogen causes hair not to grow as long during menopause. Androgen levels in the body are also decreased, which reduces the volume of the hair.
Hormone Replacement Therapy is an option for severe hair loss. Other options include lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, consuming more vitamins and eating foods rich in protein, iron and essential fatty acids. Incorporating relaxation methods such as breathing exercises, yoga and meditation can also help enhance hair growth.
Hydrating with ample amounts of water can promote supple skin. Consistently wearing sunscreen during the day protects the skin from harsh outside elements, and eating a variety of foods high in omega-3s such as soy, walnuts, salmon and fortified eggs supplies the face with fresh skin.
- Depression and Mood Swings
Depression and mood swings are caused by the continuous shifts in ovarian hormone production. Insomnia and night sweats interfering with a good night’s rest can also cause these depression and mood swings.
Mild cases of these instances can be remedied with a low dosages of contraceptives to provide stable estrogen levels. St. John’s Wort also stabilizes the mood, quitting smoking reduces the risk of depression in women approaching menopause and antidepressants may also be helpful.
Life After Menopause
Menopause affects virtually every woman, but it is not an experience to take lightly. There are complications of menopause that follow the transition that require attention:
- Osteoporosis – Bone density dramatically reduces during menopause which increases the risk of hip, spine and wrist fractures
- Cardiovascular disease – The reduction of estrogen levels increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Sexual dysfunction – Estrogen reduces vaginal moisture which could cause discomfort and pain during sex.
- Urinary incontinence – Menopause causes loss of elasticity in the vagina and urethra tissue that can result in urge and stress incontinence along with urinary tract infections.
- Weight gain – Menopause slows the metabolism which could result in sudden weight gain if care is not taken with dietary and exercise choices.