It is well known fact: menopause causes a number of changes. These manifestations go beyond the infamous hot flushes...
Menopause and perimenopause
Menopause is defined as the irreversible cessation of ovarian function; the organs essential to reproduction. Egg production ceases following a decrease of hormones (oestrogen and progesterone). Therefore, menopause marks the end of a woman’s childbearing years. Cessation of menstruation will also be observed. A number of physical and psychological problems accompany this complex process.
The onset of menopause usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55, at an average age of 51. A woman is considered to be fully menopausal 12 months after her last period.
Perimenopause is the period that precedes menopause. Menstruation may be more irregular with less abundant and shorter periods during this phase. It may be more frequent or abundant, or it may fluctuate. Perimenopausal symptoms last for several years (4 to 7 years on average) before menopause occurs.
Although it is a natural stage in life, many women find it difficult to deal with.
The effects on mental health
Perimenopause and menopause are frequently accompanied by sleep problems. Hormonal changes can make it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep, and sleep quality may be compromised. Hot flashes and night sweats sometimes contribute to insomnia. All of these difficulties can be at the source of fatigue and irritability.
Additionally, depressed mood and mood swings are very common in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Menopause increases the risk of depression, whether or not a woman has a history of depression. Sadness, fatigue or exhaustion, loss of interest for everyday activities, and decreased or increased appetite are common manifestations.
The effects on neurological health
Some women also notice that their mental faculties seem diminished. For example, they may complain of frequent forgetfulness and the "impression of having their heads in the clouds." A greater difficulty concentrating is not a rare occurrence. Again, these repercussions on daily life are attributable to hormonal changes.
Aside from the hormonal aspect, other factors can enter into play as well. Hot flashes at night and sleep problems can lead to fatigue during the day, affecting concentration. Let us not forget that memory or concentration problems are also typical symptoms of depression. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine the exact causes.
Women who have a history of migraines often notice that they intensify during perimenopause. Some women find that their migraines greatly diminish or disappear altogether after menopause. Sometimes, migraines continue to occur or increase in frequency and intensity, according to a certain cycle related to hormonal changes.
The effects on sexuality
The intimacy of many women is affected by the arrival of menopause. Decreased libido is a common sexual problem which affects about 12% of menopausal women. Although libido, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction decline with age and with menopause, rest assured: sexual satisfaction remains possible.
Vaginal atrophy is a common genital problem in menopausal women. This condition is characterized by a thinning of the vaginal wall, vaginal dryness and irritation or a burning sensation. These symptoms make sexual intercourse unpleasant and painful. An increased risk of vaginal or urinary infections is common.
Women who experience sexual difficulties should speak to a healthcare professional, as, fortunately, solutions exist.
The effects on physical appearance
After the age of 40, many women note various physical changes, including the following which can be partially due to hormonal changes:
- weight gain
- changes to body shape
- decreased muscle mass
- fatty tissue in certain areas (stomach, thighs, buttocks, etc.)
- dryness, thinning, and loss of elasticity of the skin
- changes in hair growth
- water retention (swelling)
A healthy lifestyle, a daily regimen, preventive measures and taking certain medications can help to limit the impact of menopause. This text does not address all of the possible effects of perimenopause and menopause on the health and well-being of women.
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information regarding menopause and the measures to take to get through this transition period as best as possible.