By Kathy Hubbard
Jan is a tall, attractive woman who dresses impeccably and always has her make-up perfectly applied. Well, at least she was until she reached her early 50s. One minute she’d be perfectly fine and the next moment she would be perspiring (I know women glow, but honestly she sweated like a horse). Her face would turn bright red and her hair and clothes would be soaked through.
She was very open about what was happening to her body. Our mothers’ generation would have called it The Change of Life. We called it menopause. Or, to be more accurate, Jan was in perimenopause as she hadn’t actually stopped menstruating.
Menopause is defined as when a woman hasn’t had a period for twelve months. The years leading up to menopause have a list of symptoms as do the years after. It’s not a disease, it’s a natural biological process, but the symptoms are real and caused by the natural decline of reproductive hormones.
“As you approach your late 30s, your ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone — the hormones that regulate menstruation — and your fertility declines. In your 40s, your menstrual periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent, until eventually — on average, by age 51 — your ovaries stop producing eggs, and you have no more periods,” Mayo Clinic explains.
BodyLogicMD, which are physician-owned practices specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, lists 34 symptoms of menopause. Not all women will experience all of them (most likely they won’t) and some women will have none of them.
The most familiar symptoms are hot flashes and night sweats “Hot flashes are a sudden sensation of warmth spreading through the body…though not all women experience them, more than half do,” BodyLogicMD says. Night sweats can cause you to lose sleep; ergo you’ll start feeling chronically fatigued.
“Women approaching menopause often complain of memory loss or loss of concentration, misplaced keys, forgotten appointments and social occasions,” BodyLogicMD continues.
Those of us who were younger than Jan thought her discomfort was interesting. Sort of like rubber necking a train wreck. But, when she came to work one day and said that her husband had declared that if she didn’t want to have sex any more, he’d find someone who would, we sat up and took notice.
You see, a common symptom of menopause is losing the desire to have sex, although I have heard of women who experience the exact opposite. “Loss of libido can be caused by hormonal imbalance or by menopause symptoms themselves, such as vaginal dryness or depression,” BodyLogicMD says.
“Vaginal dryness occurs when the moistness in the lining of the vagina disappears. This can be one of the most emotionally distressing of these symptoms,” they say.
Lowered estrogen levels can cause urinary tract infections, bloating, hair loss or thinning, dizziness, weight gain, incontinence, headache, digestive problems, irregular heartbeat, breast pain and other conditions too lengthy to list here.
Important to know is that lower estrogen creates an accelerated reduction in bone density resulting in osteoporosis. And, women past menopause are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Two things to talk to your medico about.
“Menopause requires no medical treatment,” Mayo Clinic says. “Instead treatments focus on relieving your signs and symptoms and preventing or managing chronic conditions that may occur with aging.”
Science News published an article in January of this year by Aimee Cunningham discussing the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy. She talks about how HRT fell off the planet in 2001 when a study reported that HRT increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots.
“Specialists in women’s health say it’s time for the public and the medical profession to reconsider their views on hormone therapy,” Cunningham wrote. I say talk to your primary care physician or your gynecologist in order to make a decision that’s right for you.
Low dose estrogen administered over a short period of time may be the answer to the most severe symptoms. Topical estrogen creams, tablets and rings can relieve vaginal dryness, sexual discomfort and urinary issues while releasing only a small amount of estrogen. And, low dose antidepressants can help mood disorders.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com.