Menopause is not an illness, but a natural process that occurs with age. It can be explained simply by a hormonal change, which leads to the end of menstruation. It usually happens between the ages of 40 and 60.
When a woman reaches forty, her ovaries start to reduce the quantity of estrogen they generate. This lower hormone production causes a gradual decrease in the number of ova that are released and the menstruation periods associated with them.
This type of menopause is often caused by:
- Endocrine disorders
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat cancer in the pelvic area
- A hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus).
The end or decrease of menstruation is the first sign of menopause. It is accompanied by many other symptoms such as:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Urinary infection or incontinence
- Insomnia, fatigue and exhaustion
- Heart palpitations
- Vaginal dryness and pain during sex
- Lowered libido
- Mood swings and irritability
- Memory problems
- Anxiety and nervousness.
When a woman has not had her period for at least 12 months, she has entered menopause.
The duration, intensity and presence of symptoms can vary. Certain women will simply stop having their periods, while others will have symptoms that last for years.
During and after menopause, the risk of developing health problems increases. The lowered quantity of estrogen produced by the body can have many negative effects on:
- The heart, as the hormonal drop increases cholesterol levels, which, in turn, can cause cardiovascular diseases.
- Bones, by lowering calcification and bone density. (This increases the risk for osteoporosis.)
- The urinary system, by causing urinary infections or incontinence (the mucous membrane covering the bladder thins and causes the involuntary flow of small amounts of urine).
- Body weight, by causing the accumulation of fat and decrease of muscle mass.
- The skin, by causing drying and thinning (the lower estrogen causes a reduction in the production of collagen and elastin, which in turn leads to wrinkles).
It is very important to see your doctor if you notice any signs or symptoms of menopause.
While menopause is inevitable, it is possible to adopt lifestyle habits that will minimize or treat symptoms.
Here are some suggested examples from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada:
Symptoms and complications
- Weight gain and changing body shape
- Osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases
- Eat food from vegetable sources and low in fats
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
- Hot flashes
- Abandon or reduce the consumption of coffee and/or alcohol (if applicable) – they increase the feeling of heat
- Reduce sources of stress
- Urinary stress incontinence (when sneezing or laughing)
- Do Kegel exercises (to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor)
Lifestyle medications are often insufficient to reduce symptoms or potential complications of menopause. Recourse to pharmacotherapy (hormone replacement therapy or HRT), medications to treat heart disease or osteoporosis can then be considered.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is composed of estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone. It can administered as a vaginal cream, patches or pills. Its use increases the risk of developing breast cancer and heart disease.
You should discuss these options with your doctor or pharmacist in order to weigh the benefits of these products against their side effects.
In-store health services
If you have questions about menopause and its treatment, talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!