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Menopause is a natural time in a woman's life, but can give rise to symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the natural process women go through as they reach a certain age and is a normal part of life.
The word “menopause” is derived from the Greek mĕn or menos, meaning “month”, and pausis, meaning “to stop”. This fits in very well with the medical meaning of menopause, which is defined as the point when monthly periods (i.e. menstruation) finally stop.
Going through menopause
It is rare, however, that periods just suddenly disappear in menopause. Typically, the odd one might be missed or arrive late. Periods may also become heavier and less regular before ceasing completely.
This change in the normal pattern of the menstrual cycle is often accompanied by symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats or mood swings. These and other menopausal symptoms may be experienced for a few months or years.
Many people describe this phase as ‘going through menopause’, ‘the change’ or ‘the change of life’. It may also be referred to as perimenopause—the period leading up to menopause.
How do I know that it is menopause?
This is a common question without a simple answer. Women may experience menopausal symptoms for some time before their final menstrual period, and also for some time after.
- The first thing to consider is your age. The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 52 years, although it is known to start as early as 35 or as late as 60 years of age. If you are under 45 years of age, it is less likely (but not impossible) that symptoms you are experiencing are related to menopause.
- Next, look at our page on menopausal symptoms and see if what is described applies to you. Symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are the most commonly experienced. However, women may also find that their mood changes (feeling low) or that they start to suffer from muscle aches and joint pains.
- You may also wish to complete a menopause questionnaire. A number of such questionnaires can be found on the Internet.
- If you are in any doubt, you should consult your doctor or other healthcare professional. Blood tests taken by your doctor, while helpful in some cases, rarely give a straightforward answer however.
Treating menopause symptoms
Many women go through menopause experiencing a minimum of symptoms, coping well without the need for any treatment. However, others find that the menopausal symptoms experienced affect their quality of life, and seek help and advice.
- The first thing you can try if you are seeking help for menopause symptoms is to see if you can improve your diet and lifestyle. Follow our link to read our Tips for a Healthy Menopause.
- Two of the most common symptoms of menopause are hot flashes and night sweats, experienced by over 80% of menopausal women. These may be helped with the use of sage leaf extracts.
- Other menopause symptoms such as low mood or difficulty sleeping can also be treated using herbs. See our page on menopause treatment with herbs for more information.
- There is a range of medicine your doctor might prescribe for menopausal symptoms. It is best to discuss with your doctor which may be suitable for you.
- HRT (hormone replacement therapy) was favoured by the medical profession many years ago but has lost its popularity because of knowledge of its side effects. Many women prefer to avoid it, but some doctors will recommend it for women with severe menopausal symptoms.
Cause of menopause
Menopause starts when periods stop.
To understand what happens during menopause, it is helpful to know how monthly periods come about before one reaches menopause. Follow our link to read more about the menstrual cycle.
Before menopause (and after puberty), a woman typically releases an egg each month. This process is controlled by a small gland in the brain called the pituitary gland.
The older we become, the less fit we are and bearing a child later in life has higher risks for both mother and child. Nature recognizes this and our genes are programmed in such a way that, when a woman reaches a certain point in her life, her body says that it is not wise to produce any more eggs.
When this happens, the hormones produced by the pituitary gland decline. This signals to the ovaries that eggs are no longer required and ovulation stops. The previously regular cycle of thickening and shedding of the lining of the uterus is no longer required and periods stop. Levels of progesterone and estrogen fall.
So biologically, menopause marks the end of the fertile period in a woman’s life and helps serve the purpose of ensuring that a woman bearing a child is fit to do so.
Changes in hormone levels during menopause lead directly and indirectly to a wide variety of symptoms. The most common are hot flashes and night sweats, probably caused by hormonal changes altering the way the body perceives heat.
Follow the link for a full description of menopausal symptoms and signs and how they are thought to come about.
What can I expect?
Although all women will go through menopause, there is no fixed or standard experience that can be described.
- A few women will hardly notice they are going through menopause, experiencing very few symptoms.
- For many, menopause brings a change in the pattern of the monthly period. In addition, sweating, hot flashes or night sweats may occur.
- A small minority of women experience significant symptoms during menopause, with symptoms severe enough to interrupt their daily routine or disrupt their quality of life.
- However menopause affects you, one thing must be remembered: menopause is not an illness but a natural process your body has to go through once you reach a certain age.
Benefits of menopause
Menopause is sometimes thought of negatively, partly because it is associated with getting older. There are some benefits to menopause however.
- With menopause, monthly periods stop, a welcome change in a woman’s life.
- Those with heavy bleeding, menstrual pain and PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) can find that menopause will relieve them of days spent feeling unwell.
- In addition, the end of the fertile period of life also brings benefits.
What do you think?
Have you found what you read useful? If so, I would love if you would leave your comment below. Thanks Sonia Chartier