Menopause is the stage in a woman’s life when her reproductive system stops producing eggs; therefore, she can no longer become pregnant. This is a natural biological process that typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can happen earlier or later. The onset of menopause is marked by the end of menstrual periods, and it is officially diagnosed when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period.
What causes menopause?
Menopause is triggered by a decline in oestrogen and progesterone levels, hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. During a woman’s reproductive years, the ovaries release eggs and produce these hormones. They cause the lining of the uterus to thicken, preparing for a possible pregnancy. If a pregnancy does not happen, this lining is shed, resulting in menstrual bleeding.
As you approach menopause, the ovaries gradually reduce the production of these hormones. This decline in hormone levels can cause changes in the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular periods and, eventually, the end of menstrual periods altogether. The exact cause of this decrease in hormone production is not fully understood, but it is believed that changes in the level of certain hormones produced by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland regulate the hormone production of the ovaries.
Are there stages of menopause?
Yes, menopause usually occurs in several stages, categorised as perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
- Perimenopause: This is the stage that occurs before menopause, and it can last for several years. During this stage, your body begins to produce less oestrogen and progesterone, which can cause changes in the menstrual cycle. You may experience hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood changes.
- Menopause: This is the stage when you go 12 consecutive months without a period. At this point, your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs, and the production of oestrogen and progesterone has significantly decreased.
- Postmenopause: During this stage, your body has fully adjusted to the changes caused by the decline in hormone levels. Symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, may continue, but they typically become less frequent and less severe over time.
How will I know if I reached menopause?
The common signs or symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes: a sudden feeling of intense heat (particularly in the upper part, such as the neck and face) that can cause red blotches on your chest, arms, and back, sweating, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and dizziness.
- Night sweats: a type of hot flash that occurs during the night and can cause sweating, making it difficult to sleep.
- Aches, weakness, or stiffness: it is caused by reduced levels of oestrogen, stress or tension, and lack of physical activity.
- Gas and constipation: your digestive tract slows down due to the decline in oestrogen levels.
- Urinary incontinence: urine may leak in conditions like coughing, laughing, exercising, or carrying heavy objects.
- Vaginal dryness: due to the decrease in oestrogen levels, the vaginal walls can become thinner and less elastic, causing dryness and discomfort during sexual intercourse.
- Changes in hair and skin: your skin becomes thinner and drier and is prone to bruising and itching; your hair growth slows down, making hair less manageable.
- Poor sleep: it is usually caused by night sweats but can be a symptom of anxiety or depression.
- Weight gain: your body starts to use calories more slowly.
- Inflamed or irritated urethra: your urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder) may become inflamed or irritated, causing an immediate urge to urinate or pain while urinating)
It is important to note that the duration and severity of symptoms can significantly vary from woman to woman. Also, some women may experience few or no symptoms, while others may experience more severe symptoms. As such, you should ask your doctor what factors may contribute to these irregularities.
Managing these symptoms
Managing menopause can be done through a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and alternative therapies. Some tips for managing these symptoms include:
- Hormonal therapy, which can help alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, under the guidance of your healthcare provider
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Engaging in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or yoga, to help you cope with the emotional hurdles of menopause
- Managing stress through techniques like meditation and deep breathing
- Over-the-counter remedies, such as herbal supplements and vaginal moisturisers
- Medications, such as antidepressants and blood pressure medications, which can help with specific symptoms
It is important to consult with a trusted women’s clinic in Singapore to determine the best course of treatment for managing menopause. WS Law Women’s Clinic and Laparoscopic Surgery Centre has been listed by Smartsinga.com as one of the top women’s clinics in Singapore. Dr Law can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of different options and help you make an informed decision about your menopausal care.