Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period. It occurs when there has been a change in a woman’s reproductive hormones and the ovaries no longer release any eggs. Menopause can occur naturally and at the expected age, prematurely or early. Periods may stop unexpectedly due to primary ovarian insufficiency, or menopause may be induced through surgery or because of treatment for cancer. Perimenopause is the stage before natural menopause and is often the time when women begin to experience the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings.
Management and treatment of menopausal symptoms depends on each individual woman, stage of life, relationships and general level of health and wellbeing. Healthy living, natural and complementary therapies, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and some prescription medications may assist with menopause symptoms.
If you have had menopause because of treatment for cancer or you have had premature or early menopause it is helpful to understand what you can do for symptoms of menopause also.
Menopause means you have had your final menstrual period, but how do you know when your last period has occurred? The different stages of menopause including perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause are discussed along with what is happening with your hormones and what is the best way of diagnosing menopause.
Causes of menopause
Menopause occurs when there has been a change in a woman’s reproductive hormones and the ovaries are no longer able to release any eggs. Menopause can happen naturally and at the expected age, prematurely or early. Periods may stop unexpectedly due to primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), or menopause occurs when the ovaries are removed through surgery (oophorectomy) or because of various treatments for cancer.
Symptoms of menopause generally include hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings. There are other physical and emotional symptoms of menopause but no one woman will experience menopause in the same way. Culture, general level of health and wellbeing, previous experience of mood problems, lifestyle and whether you have had a natural, surgical or chemotherapy induced menopause will all impact on menopausal symptoms.
Management and treatment of menopausal symptoms depends on each individual woman. Healthy living, natural and complementary therapies including herbs and phytoestrogens, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), some antidepressant medications and medications typically used for high blood pressure may assist with menopause symptoms. ‘Bioidentical’ hormone therapy is also discussed.
Sex & relationships
Menopause can impact on your relationship and your sex life. Symptoms such as a dry vagina can make sex painful and you may find you have less desire for sex. Knowing what to do and where to get help for both you and your partner is helpful.
Mental health & emotions
Hormone changes at menopause may contribute to depressed mood and anxious feelings and you may find your emotions swing from joy to frustration and annoyance in the blink of an eye. Whether menopause causes depression continues to be debated but there are many things you can do to help with both depression and anxiety if you experience these at the same time as menopause.
Health after menopause
At the same time you are menopausal there are a lot of other areas of your health to keep an eye on. It is important to keep up Pap smear tests, breast checks, watch your diet, blood pressure and cholesterol to ensure good cardiovascular health. After menopause, changes to the spread of body fat and body shape increases risk of cardiovascular disease and lower levels of oestrogen also increases the risk of bladder weakness and osteoporosis.
Menopause after cancer
Having menopause and cancer at the same time can be very distressing. Managing your health, your illness and menopause at the same time is difficult given that your treatment options for menopause are often limited, however there are many things you can do to help.
Premature & early menopause
Menopause that happens earlier than the expected age of around 50 years is called premature or early menopause. This may be due to primary ovarian insufficiency where the periods spontaneously stop, as a result of chemotherapy treatment for cancer or surgically induced menopause when the ovaries are removed. The impact on physical health, emotions, mood, body image and relationships can be significant, but there are treatment options and ways to manage premature and early menopause, which can help.
Information for partners
Understanding what your partner is going through at menopause can help you, your partner and your relationship. Knowing about menopause, symptoms, the impact on sex and your relationship, along with tips to assist your partner as she goes through menopause are discussed.