I grew up, unfortunately, not well-educated about the physical and mental health of women. I am curious to know what I should expect once I get close to my 40s. My mom is currently at the beginning of going through the pre-menopausal (or perimenopause) stage. I did some research for her and all the other women who are struggling with this. I learned it is a normal stage, a part of being a woman.
I did some reading and started to educate myself a bit more. What exactly is menopause? It’s when your menstrual cycle immediately stops, and you are unable to become pregnant. Women who experience this can be from the mid to late 40s, or older, and it can begin with intermittent menstrual cycles. When this happens, you are in perimenopause, the stage before menopause. Perimenopause means “around menopause,” and it indicates the beginning of your last period. Your hormones will change as your body is transitioning. It could be a while before this stage concludes since perimenopause usually lasts for four years.
You will know if you are starting to transition if you’re having irregular periods; your cycles are lighter or heavier than usual. You might have an issue with sleeping, or you may be having hot flashes. You could also experience some irritable behavior and mood swings. You may also experience vaginal dryness. Sex can be quite uncomfortable and painful, or you could become disinterested in sex.
If you’re at this stage and having these symptoms, it might be time to visit your doctor for an exam. There are unnoticeable symptoms such as losing bone density because of the lack of estrogen, leading to osteoporosis, causing the bones to become weak and break easily. There is also an elevated risk of heart disease and stroke from raised cholesterol due to lowered estrogen levels. You will know after a full 12 months without your period that menopause has begun.
An alternative way some women immediately may go through menopause instead of transitioning naturally is through surgical menopause. This occurs right after an oophorectomy, the surgery to remove the ovaries. When the ovaries are removed, estrogen production ceases, and menopause begins. This is often performed during a hysterectomy with the removal of the uterus to reduce the possibilities of any future disease.
Unfortunately, there are risks from surgical menopause such as loss of bone density, low libido, vaginal dryness, and infertility. It also causes hormonal imbalance due to the removal of the ovaries leaving only the adrenal glands. Without the ovaries, the adrenal glands cannot produce enough hormones to balance those levels.
This hormonal imbalance can increase your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. It also depends on your medical history. Some doctors recommend hormone replacement therapy while others do not, especially if you have a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Fortunately, there are benefits to surgical menopause. It could save your life by reducing the chance of the development of cancers caused by estrogen. Surgical menopause can reduce pain from endometriosis, the condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus. This can cause pelvic pain, as well as issues with your ovaries, fallopian tubes or your lymph nodes.
Some women choose to remove their ovaries for other reasons such as ovary torsion (twisted ovaries that affect blood flow), recurring ovarian cysts, or benign ovarian tumors. Others at high risk for breast or ovarian cancers may choose a prophylactic (preventive) surgery to deter any risk of that cancer.
To help ease your symptoms during menopause, you can carry a portable fan, drink water, avoid spicy foods, limit drinking alcohol, make sure to keep your bedroom cool at night, and keep a fan on your bedside table. There are also ways to reduce stress, such as exercise, a healthy sleep cycle, meditation, and joining a support group of women going through the same thing.
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For some, menopause may be an uncomfortable journey. For others, symptoms may come and go without any bother. For all, however, it’s a season that we women must go through. I do not see this stage of a woman’s life as the end. Instead, I see it as a new change in your life. While you’re going through this journey, know that you are not alone. Many women are or will be feeling the same way, walking this path with you.
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