As Americans are living longer, most women live a third of their lives after menopause. Women view menopause as another phase of life and are viewing it as a new beginning.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause technically means the “end of menstruation.” The transition time, when estrogen levels are decreasing, is known as perimenopause.
The levels of estrogen and progesterone produced by your ovaries declines beginning in your early 30’s. This decline escalates when you enter perimenopause – usually three to five years prior to menopause. The levels of estrogen and progesterone drop so low you stop menstruating. You know you have passed menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.
When Can I Expect to Enter Menopause?
The average age of women entering menopause is 51, although the normal age range is from 45 to 55. Often women begin and end their menstrual life about the same age as their mother or sisters did.
What Can I Expect with Menopause?
The diminishing amount of estrogen produced by your ovaries produces changes in your body. These changes occur slowly over time and are different for everyone. Some women notice very little change while other women find it difficult to cope with the dramatic symptoms caused by these changes.
Some symptoms include:
- Hot Flashes – Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause. As many as 75% of women experience hot flashes. A hot flash is a sudden rush of heat that spreads over the upper body and face. Some women experience a simple warming; others have acute flashes with perspiration.Hot flashes can occur any time of the day or night. They usually last from thirty seconds to several minutes. Some women have hot flashes for a few months; other women may experience them for several years. Some women do not have hot flashes at all.
- Sleep Difficulties – Many women complain of problems with sleep as they enter menopause. Some women find it difficult to get to sleep or to stay asleep. Sometimes hot flashes cause women to wake from a deep sleep.
- Vaginal and Urinary Tract Changes – Some women experience vaginal problems during the perimenopause, while others don’t have symptoms until they are well past menopause. The loss of estrogen causes changes in the walls of the vagina. The vaginal lining becomes thinner, drier, and less elastic as you age. You may have burning or itching. Some women have bleeding or burning with intercourse.The bladder and urethra can lose muscle tone with lower levels of estrogen. This can lead to a loss of bladder control. You may notice leakage when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or exercise.
- Bone and Body Changes – Lower estrogen levels due to menopause can result in osteoporosis. Your bones lose density and become fragile. Older women are more likely to break bones. The hip, wrist, and spine are the bones most likely to break.The increased risk of heart disease after menopause is thought to be related to decreased estrogen levels.
- Emotional Changes – Mood swings can occur with the changes associated with menopause. Contrary to prior belief, studies show there is no increase in serious psychiatric disorders in women entering menopause. The emotional change felt by most women can be accentuated by sleep disturbances and hot flushes. Normal stress is more difficult to cope with while experiencing menopausal symptoms.
How Will Menopause affect My Sexuality?
Many women find sex to be more rewarding after menopause. They no longer have to worry about birth control and may now have more time to spend with their partners. However, some women find that changes caused by menopause do impact their sexuality. They may have vaginal dryness or may lose interest in sex. Hormone Replacement Therapy and vaginal lubricants can help return moisture and elasticity to the vagina and make intercourse more comfortable. There are many vaginal lubricants or moisturizers that can be bought over the counter. If you have been having sexual intercourse on a regular basis, you may not notice vaginal changes with menopause. Regular sex may help the vagina retain its natural elasticity.
A decrease in libido, or sexual drive, can occur with menopause. Lower hormone levels may decrease your sex drive or may affect your ability to have orgasm. Hormone replacement therapy can help some of these changes. Trying different positions and engaging in longer foreplay may also help. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns.
How Do Diet and Exercise Affect Menopause?
Eating a balanced diet will help you stay healthy before, during, and after menopause. It is important to eat a variety of foods to make sure you get all the essential nutrients. As you enter menopause, you should pay close attention to the amount of calcium you are receiving in your diet. The calcium is important to help build strong bones. Women over the age of 50 should be getting 1,000 mg of calcium each day if they are on hormone replacement therapy, 1,500 mg each day if they are not.
Exercise is very important as you get older. Regular exercise slows bone loss and improves your overall health. Walking and aerobics are good weight-bearing exercises.