For some, it happens suddenly. For others, more slowly. Some experience debilitating hot flashes, some none at all. Some have noticeable mood swings, others not so much. It’s menopause – and ultimately, it happens to every woman.
Medically defined, menopause is said to have begun when a woman’s menstrual cycle has ended for a year. The reason for this change is a decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone. Menopause occurs, on average, around age 52 in the US. Symptoms, however, often begin in a woman’s 40s and can last for up to a decade.
Women whose ovaries have stopped functioning or have been removed surgically can experience what is commonly referred to as early menopause.
Symptoms can vary and include:
- Hot flashes.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Mild depression.
Many of these symptoms can cause trouble sleeping which, in turn, can result in memory loss and mood swings.
Renee Eger, MD, director of The Menopause Program at Women & Infants Hospital, wants to reassure women that these symptoms are normal and that they are not “all in your head.” Because of the decrease in hormones, menopause poses health risks for women – many of which have little or no symptoms.
It’s important to be aware of:
- Bone health – Estrogen keeps a woman’s bones healthy. When she stops producing estrogen, she can experience a loss of bone mass and an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or experiencing fractures.
- Cardiovascular health – As a woman ages, her risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases. It is vital that every woman have her cardiovascular health assessed before considering the use of hormone replacement therapy for her menopause symptoms.
Dr. Eger also wants women to know that menopause is part of life’s journey and it’s a great time to do a self-assessment of your own health and maintain a healthy lifestyle by having a regular exercise routine, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, enjoying healthy relationships, and ensuring your own personal safety.