Transitioning to Menopause: Understanding its effects on the body
A woman’s body undergoes countless changes throughout her life. From early adolescence to reproductive years and after, your body experiences a wide spectrum of changes. One such significant biological change – menopause – is part of this cycle of life. According to a study by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), nearly 1.5 million women undergo the menopausal transition each year. However, only a few people understand what is menopause and how transitioning to menopause affects your body?
While it is neither a disease nor a disorder, transitioning to menopause can pose significant difficulties for most women. However, even today, there is a lack of candid and open discussions on menopause-related changes. Most women, therefore, cannot understand what they are going through or make sense of their feelings and emotions.
If you are a woman over the age of 45 years who is soon expecting her transition to menopause, then this article is for you. In the piece below, Dr Aruna Kalra, a leading gynaecologist at the CK Birla Hospital, talks about the different signs of menopause, what is menopause and what to expect from transitioning to menopause.
What is menopause?
Menopause refers to the natural decline in a woman’s reproductive hormones and the cessation of ovulation and menstruation. It is a biological milestone that is common in women between the ages of 45 and 55. The average menopause age in India is 46.2 years.
Menopause marks the end of the fertile phase of a woman’s life. Retrospectively, this is defined after 12 months or 1 year of amenorrhea (the absence of periods) has been observed. These changes, however, do not occur all at once.
Menopause occurs as a result of slowing down the reproductive cycle that has been continuously functioning since puberty. Due to the growing age, there are several levels of hormonal fluctuations that lead to a permanent stop at your periods.
If a woman loses her normal ovarian function before the age of 40, the condition is termed early menopause or premature menopause.
What are the signs of menopause?
Menopause is characterised by hormonal changes and often involves troublesome symptoms such as vaginal dryness, vasomotor symptoms, insomnia, decreased libido, joint pain, and fatigue.
However, menopause body changes are not limited to these symptoms. Women may experience concurrent behavioural, psychological and social changes as well. Most of these symptoms are highly individual and may progress at a different pace for each woman.
Transitioning to menopause: What are the common menopause body changes?
If you are at the cusp of the menopausal transition, here are 10 important body changes during menopause that you need to be aware of:
1) Hot flashes
Hot flashes are one of the most common signs of menopause and perimenopause. Hot flashes may last for a few or several years and are increasingly linked to low levels of estrogen.
Women who experience a hot flash (mostly the first sign of menopause) may suffer from sudden feelings of intense warmth, typically over the face, neck, and torso. They may also develop red blotches and break into heavy sweats.
2) Mood swings
Emotional upheavals and mood swings is another typical symptom related to menopause. Hormonal changes during menopause tend to experience rapid changes in mood due to a plunge in their levels of estrogen.
Estrogen can influence the interactions of serotonin and norepinephrine (feel-good hormones) on mood and cognition.
3) Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are common but often overlooked symptoms of menopause. These feelings of irritability, anxiety, worry, and sadness tend to surface due to changing hormone levels.
4) Changes in the immune system
The immune system may become weakened due to body changes during menopause as a result of depleting hormone levels. As a result, women may become more susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases, allergies, and colds.
Menopausal women should try to boost their immunity by eating a nutrient-rich diet, managing stress levels, getting adequate sleep and consuming sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, zinc and vitamins A, D, and E.
5) Bone loss
An NCBI study documents that women lose about half their trabecular bone and 30% of their cortical bone throughout their lifetime. About half of this bone loss is said to occur during the initial 10 years after menopause.
Bone loss reportedly accelerates substantially during late perimenopause and early postmenopausal years. This rapid bone loss during menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis significantly.
Thus, menopausal women should eat foods that are rich in the following essential minerals and vitamins:
- Vitamin C
- Omega-3 fats
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
Apart from this, the DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan can also help determine if you have a low bone density or if you are at a high risk of experiencing fractures.
6) Low sex drive
Women naturally experience a lowered libido or sex drive as they go through menopause. This typically happens as a consequence of hormonal changes during menopause. Female hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone, decline during this period.
Symptoms such as vaginal tightness, pain during sex and vaginal dryness also frequently accompany the loss of libido or reduced sex drive.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, as much as 61% of menopausal women report symptoms of insomnia. Hormonal changes during menopause lead to changes in the natural circadian rhythm, causing disrupted sleep.
Other factors, such as a weak bladder, night sweats, joint pain, and anxiety, may contribute to insomnia as well. For this reason, women are frequently advised to do regular aerobic exercise and eliminate coffee, alcohol and other hot flush triggers before bed.
8) Ageing skin
Menopause can rapidly advance the ageing of the skin. A scientific study confirms this by pointing out that Type I and III skin collagen decreases by at least 30% in the first five years after menopause.
The body cannot keep up with the production of collagen because the estrogen levels in the body begin to decline.
9) Brain fog
Brain fog is another troublesome concern that many menopausal women face. Brain fog is characterised by forgetfulness and a lapse in focus or concentration. The brain has many estrogen receptors, so when it is robbed of this hormone, it cannot function as well as it used to.
10) Sudden weight gain
Weight gain is another common challenge that women experience during menopause. The inevitable loss of estrogen and progesterone can result in sudden weight gain.
Age-related factors such as – loss of lean muscles, increased stress, and sleep deprivation can also come into play.
What are the stages of menopause?
Natural menopause is a gradual process that happens through three stages. The stages of menopause include:
- Perimenopause: Perimenopause or the transition into menopause can surface about 8 to 10 years before menopause. During this transition phase, women may experience several symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes and vaginal dryness which are similar to menopause itself.
- Menopause: The stage where women experience a complete absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months is called menopause.
- Postmenopause: The stage after a woman has experienced over 12 months of absence of menstruation is known as postmenopause.
The concluding note
If you are approaching the onset of a menopausal transition, the first thing you need to do is aware yourself of what is menopause and what are its possible effects on your body. You should prepare yourself for major physical and emotional changes.
If you experience severe menopausal symptoms, you can seek a variety of safe treatment options with the thoughtful use of estrogen or Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). For patients who are uncomfortable with hormonal therapies, there are alternative treatments as well.
To cope with symptoms of menopause such as night sweats, sleeplessness, and low sex drive, talk with our doctors at the CK Birla Hospital. Book an appointment with Dr Aruna Kalra, a leading gynaecologist in Gurgaon for personalised guidance during menopause.
Ques: What is the average menopause age in India?
Ans: The age of menopause in India is nearly 46.2 years.
Ques: How long do menopause symptoms last?
Ans: Menopause symptoms may last between 4.5- 7 years after the last period.
Ques: What are the most common body changes caused by menopause?
Ans: Common bodily changes of menopause include hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, memory problems, mood disturbances, vaginal dryness, and weight gain.
Ques: How many stages of menopause are there?
Ans: There are three stages of menopause – perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.