A woman's reproductive journey begins at 'menarche'- when she starts having periods. This goes on for about 3 decades where her reproductive organs- the uterus and ovaries keep functioning under the effect of various reproductive hormones. Beyond that, the ovarian follicles get depleted and she slowly stops ovulating and thus stops having periods.
When a woman no longer menstruates for twelve consecutive months, she is said to have achieved menopause.
This journey towards menopause isn’t a smooth one for every woman. It’s not like your periods just cease all of a sudden! This new phase of life comes with a lot of physical and mental changes for a woman.
The woman’s body prepares itself for menopause, during which she faces a transition, with many unprecedented but characteristic symptoms. The transition phase before hitting menopause is known as perimenopause. The significant drop in estrogen levels causes most of the symptoms of menopause.
Everyone experiences this journey differently. It could be difficult for some while some women even glide through it!
Set your expectations right: Keep an open mind
What is Menopause age?
The global average age for women hitting menopause is 51. But various studies have shown that Indian women achieve menopause at an average age of 46 years. With 46 as the average, the occurrence is considered normal between 40 to 54 years. While there is no accurate method to predict a woman's menopausal age, genetics pays a role here and a woman tends to reach menopause at around the same age as her mother.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause, by definition, is the absence of periods for 12 consecutive months. The perimenopause to menopause transition usually starts post the "reproductive period" - 4 to 8 years before menopause and the symptoms may last up to a year after menopause is reached.
It is during this Perimenopause phase that a woman begins to see irregularities in her periods.
This includes disturbed menstrual cycles and endocrine or hormonal changes. As the ovaries slowly shut shop, there is an imbalance of hormones, leading to changes in the menstrual cycle. You may experience irregular periods- they could be persistent, last for longer days, and you may even have heavy bleeding.
As the body adapts to a lowered level of estrogen, its temperature regulation is affected. This causes hot flashes- a sudden spurt of heat followed by profuse sweating. It is regarded as the most common symptom of menopause. The thing with hot flashes is that they can happen suddenly, at any time and can be very troublesome. Hot flashes that occur at night and disrupt sleep cycles are known as night sweats.
While life in itself is challenging, constant mood swings do not support the cause. Finding it hard to cope up with things in life that didn't seem so tricky until yesterday? Yes, mood swings do that to you!
During the menopausal transition, women often feel irritable and face mood swings, leading to sudden outbursts, tearfulness and depression. Especially when living with family, it becomes equally challenging for the family to understand and empathise with the changes that the women endure.
A lot of women face vaginal dryness during this phase and what is more problematic is that it is not much spoken about.
There could be itching, frequent infections and painful or unpleasant sexual intercourse. Add to that the loss of libido caused by hormonal changes. Unfortunately, there is a lot of taboo that surrounds it.
Vaginal dryness poses quite a situation for all women.
Abnormal hair growth & Skin Sagging
Lowered estrogen causes an imbalance between the female and male hormones, leading to abnormal hair growth across the body. Vaginal dryness is not the only issue, but the skin starts to sag, the face wrinkles up and can also cause acne.
Loss of estrogen starts to make your bones weaker. The bone density reduces, which leads to aches and pains, and in extreme cases, could lead to fractures after a seemingly minimal fall or injury.
All the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can be alleviated with the right medical advice, certain lifestyle modifications and at times, if required, by certain medications.
Remember, menopause is not a disease. It is a phase of life.
It would be best to make specific changes in your lifestyle, diet, and exercise routine to deal well with this phase of life. And if, at any time, you need some help, remember that we are here to help you!