The oft dreaded M word:
Menopause (also known as the climacteric, meaning critical change) has many associations. It is undoubtedly in all cultures a time of change, a symbolic frontier for a woman: it means that her days of fertility, her primeval reason for life, are over. Given the increasingly globalized culture of eternal youth seeking, this change becomes complex, as we associate the loss of fertility with the loss of youthfulness.
In the good “old” days, women just seemed to get on with it, displaying the same stoicism that saw them through a couple of world wars. But those were the days when beige and twinsets were clear middle-age territory. Those days are long gone:50 is the new 40 (at least) and beige is the new chic. Yet there is to this day a certain taboo surrounding menopause. The idea that if you don’t discuss it, it goes away.
This only means that many women are faced with the challenge of coming to terms with the sometimes distressing symptoms of menopause, along with negative associations, armed with relatively scant information, often misinformation. Here are 10 facts to try and clarify the mystery surrounding the very natural process of menopause.
1. Menopause is the opposite of menarche (which is when a female’s periods start). Chemically menopause is due to a decrease in production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. While not typical you can diagnose menopause by measuring hormone levels in the blood or urine.
2. Menopause comprises peri-menopause and post menopause/menopause. You are officially post-menopausal or have reached menopause when you have had no periods for an entire year.
3. Menopause normally occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, although this varies.
4. Some women experience early menopause, often owing to surgery and they are usually given hormone replacement therapy.
5. Symptoms vary according to the person: some women experience no symptoms. Menopause is said to increase the chances of osteoporosis (especially when its genetic) and heart disease, although these are also due to the ageing process in general.
6. One of the signs that menopause has started (peri menopause) could be the odd missed period. Periods may be increasingly less frequent, or heavier or lighter, till they stop. This may happen over a year or more.
7. Other common symptoms are hot flushes (indicating fluctuating hormone levels) during the day and night sweats. Hot flushes feel like a surge in body heat that causes one to break into a sweat which then rapidly cools the body. This can feel uncomfortable. Dryness, especially vaginal dryness is also a commonly reported symptom.
8. Disrupted sleep patterns are another symptom, often caused by night sweats. These can be distressing if they continue.
9. Emotional moodswings ( which resemble pre-menstrual symptoms) and increased tiredness can often be the consequence of disrupted sleep, not just ongoing hormonal fluctuations.