The life of a woman is filled with unique events. The onset of menstruation, menarche, is for many followed later by the birth of a first child, then breast-feeding. Many years thereafter, menopause arrives. Will you have the right reflexes to face this new stage in your life with confidence?
Menopause is not an illness!
Sometimes irritating and sometimes the object of jokes, this normal stage in the life of a woman can be interspersed with symptoms that require some getting used to. Menopausal women at times have the impression of no longer recognizing themselves. No question of easing menopausal symptoms in this case because they can turn the life of a woman upside down! So, here’s a toolkit to help you take menopause in your stride!
What is menopause?
Menopause is a period of hormonal changes in women, which is characterized by the end of the monthly period and ovulation. It occurs after a gradual decrease in the synthesis of reproductive hormones. This natural process is usually spread out over a number of years, generally between the ages of 45 and 55.
Menopause is confirmed when a woman doesn’t get her monthly periods for twelve consecutive months. Around 75% of women experience physical, psychological, or social symptoms during this time. The intensity of symptoms, different for each woman, ranges from mild to severe in some cases.
What are the main symptoms of menopause?
Among symptoms associated with menopause are:
- menstrual irregularity in the years or months before menopause;
- hot flashes;
- profuse sweating at night;
- genital discomfort, such as vaginal dryness;
- decreased sex drive;
- weigh gain;
- irritability and mood swings (e.g.: depression);
- memory problems and poor concentration.
In the longer term, menopause can be a harbinger of certain conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. So, regular medical check-ups are vital.
What can be done to relieve symptoms?
Some lifestyle changes can have an influence on the type and intensity of women’s menopausal symptoms. The earlier you make these changes, the better you will feel. Here are a few tips:
- Favour low-fat and high-fibre foods. A calcium-rich diet can also help prevent osteoporosis.
- Avoid, or at least limit, your consumption of tea, coffee, and alcohol as well as big or spicy meals. They all contribute to hot flashes. In addition, caffeine can affect the quality of your sleep.
- Exercise regularly. This will also be good for your heart, bones, and joints.
- Stop smoking.
- Have a positive attitude; this will make a big difference to you and your loved ones in your daily lives. Relaxation, visualization, and yoga can help in this regard.
- Remain sexually active to combat vaginal dryness and ease certain psychological symptoms.
Can persistent symptoms be treated?
All women have doubts about what hormone therapy involves and don’t know what to do. Hormone therapy may be indicated and effective when symptoms are more severe and affect daily life. Hormone therapy replaces reproductive hormones whose production has decreased. In addition to easing menopausal symptoms, this treatment reduces the risk of bone erosion caused by osteoporosis. However, hormone therapy cannot be prescribed for all women. It is particularly not suitable for women who have had breast cancer.
Other medications exist for women who do not want to or cannot take hormones. Like hormone therapy, these drugs must be prescribed by a doctor after a medical exam.
Also, certain natural products are being sold to ease menopausal symptoms. Their effectiveness is, however, not certain because there is contradictory evidence on the subject. If you want to use one of these products, first ask your pharmacist, who will be able to advise you.
A brief note on the risk of pregnancy
When menopause is definitively reached, pregnancy becomes impossible because there is no longer ovulation. On the contrary, in the months or years preceding menopause, the risk of pregnancy remains. In fact, even if the periods are irregular or very infrequent, it is possible to become pregnant. So, adequate protection during sexual intercourse is very important. Please also note that any vaginal bleeding after menopause requires medical attention.
As Clémence Desrochers sang so aptly in French, La ménopause, c’est naturel, c’est normal, et ça fait pas mal!, menopause is natural, normal, and it isn’t bad! Although most women are apprehensive about menopause, this can still be a time of relative calm. Many women compare notes, but each woman will experience menopause in her own way. It goes without saying that a positive attitude and a touch of humour in the face of this inevitable rite of passage for women can help cope with certain unpleasant aspects. Several tools are available to help you stay in control of your life!