Coping With Menopause

Menopause is the time when your menstrual cycles come to an end. If you are in your 40s or 50s and haven’t had your periods for 12 months, it means you’ve hit menopause. This is a natural biological process involving hormones (just like puberty) and cannot be prevented or altered.

Driven by change in hormonal levels, menopause comes with symptoms like hot flashes, severe mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain and dry skin.

You may experience the following symptoms right from the time of perimenopause (before menopause) to post menopause:

Irregular periods

Changes in menstrual pattern/ shorter cycles

Extreme mood swings

Fatigue

Hot flashes

Vaginal dryness

Chills

Night sweats

Insomnia

Thinning hair

Loss of fullness of breast

Dry skin

Weight gain due to slowed metabolism

Why Menopause?

Natural decline of reproductive hormones:

As you approach your late 30s, your ovaries will make lesser estrogen and progesterone, which in turn decreases your fertility levels.

Hysterectomy:

Surgical removal of the uterus (but not ovaries) need not cause immediate menopause. Although you will longer get your periods, your ovaries will still release eggs and produce estrogen and progesterone hormones.

But if you undergo a total hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy (removal uterus as well as ovaries), it will cause immediate menopause. This might lead to abrupt onset of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, which can be severe.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy:

Treatments for cancer can induce menopause and cause symptoms like hot flashes. In certain cases, it might not be menopause and periods could come back after a halt.

Primary ovarian insufficiency:

About 1% of women hit premature menopause (before 40 years of age due to primary ovarian insufficiency – a condition wherein the ovaries fail to produce normal levels of reproductive hormones due to genetic factors or autoimmune diseases. However, if no apparent causes are found for such a condition, hormone treatments are given to ensure a normal menopause pattern.

What Are The After-effects Of Menopause?

Cardiovascular diseases

The risk of heart ailments increase during menopause as the hormonal levels in the body gets altered. It is important to do adopt a good lifestyle, which includes regular exercise, healthy diet, maintaining optimal weight and getting enough sleep. Your doctor can give you advice on how to protect your heart, and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels if required.

Osteoporosis

A condition causes bones to become like sponge-like, brittle, weak and extremely prone to fractures, osteoporosis mostly affect women as they undergo hormal imbalances during menopause. You may lose bone density during rapidly during the first few years of menopause, which in turn increases the risk of osteoporosis and susceptibility to fractures of the hip, spine, and wrists. Regular exercise, healthy diet and Vitamin D from the sun can prevent occurrence of osteoporosis.

Urinary incontinence

Menopause and age lead to loss of elasticity of the vagina and urethra resulting in strong, unstoppable urge to urinate or involuntary passing of urine (incontinence). Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises, using topical vaginal estrogen and hormonal treatment (only if recommended by the doctor) can help you control this problem.

Loss of libido

Menopause is the time when the estrogen levels drop, causing dryness and loss of vaginal elasticity. This can lead to decreased desire for sexual activity (libido) and even pain during sex. This can be controlled to an extent using water-based vaginal moisturisers and lubricants.

Weight gain

Most of the women gain weight during the menopause due to slow down of metabolism. A healthy diet and exercise regime can help control this problem.

Managing Menopause

Fortunately, many of symptoms associated with menopause go away with time. However, these symptoms are difficult to handle and can cause a lot of physical and emotional distress. Here’s how you can manage the symptoms effectively.

Hot or cold flashes:

Look out for the triggers – it could be anything from caffeine and spicy foods to stress and weather. Wear clothes that can help you during the flashes.

Vaginal discomfort:

Use high quality water based lubricants or moisturisers to avoid the discomfort. Remaining sexually active also helps alleviate this discomfort to an extent.

Eat healthy:

Make sure you eat right by adding vegetables, nuts, oily fish (for omega-3), seeds, lentils, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, lentils and fruits to your diet. Avoid high-salt, high-sugar and oily food to control hypertension, diabetes and prevent obesity and kidney stones.

Drink plenty of water:

Drinking 2-3 litres of water through the day will keep your body hydrated and help prevent dry skin, urinary infections and kidney stones.

Regular exercise:

Physical activity is very important during menopause as it keeps your weight in check, improves blood circulation and bone health, reduces muscle aches and prevents heart diseases. The easiest exercise you could do is brisk walking for 40 minutes a day.

Sleep well:

Sleeping can help you escape the symptoms by calming your mind and body. Follow a healthy sleep pattern and avoid using caffeine-based products.

Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles:

Do Kegel exercises to improve the muscle strength and prevent incontinence.

Quit smoking:

Smoking increases the risk of health complications like heart disease, cancer, stroke and osteoporosis. It may also aggravate hot flashes and induce early menopause.

Calm your mind:

Practicing yoga and meditation can help calm your mind and manage mood swings better.

When should you see a doctor?

It’s highly recommended that you visit your gynaecologist if you notice symptoms of menopause.

Do regular health checks including PAP smear (as suggested by the doctor) to ensure everything is fine.

Get immediate medical help if you notice bleeding/ spotting post menopause.

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