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FACTS I WISH I HAD KNOWN ABOUT MENOPAUSE

I was 49 when after some tests, I was told that all the discomfort I was experiencing, both mentally and physically, was because I was postmenopausal. POST menopause?! In my mind, I was thinking, what happened to perimenopause and menopause? Did my body skip those two processes and go straight to post-menopause?


This played on my mind for several weeks, if not months. I was confused, angry, and sad at the same time, and I definitely could not accept the fact that I was post-menopausal! Yes, I did go 12 months without my period. Actually, during those 12 months, I did have my period once. But I just thought it was stress because we were all dealing with the pandemic and stuck within the four walls of our homes. Not only that but my job that I have had for the past 26 years was hanging on by a thread! So yes, like many people during that period, I was under a tremendous amount of stress!


As someone who naturally has irregular periods, I blamed it on stress. Of course, the fact that I was not getting my period for many months at a time was a bit strange but I was only 49, and menopause was years away, or so I thought. Actually, it didn't even cross my mind that it was menopause. I had thought I had many more years to go before I had to worry about menopause!


After doing a lot of reading, I realized that I must've been in perimenopause and menopause since I was in my 30s and I couldn't believe that I didn't notice the symptoms. Or did I? Looking back, I did experience, hot flashes and weight gain, but what really got to me was that I didn't pay attention to it. I didn't pay attention to what my body was telling me. I didn't pay any attention to the signs my body was giving out. Even if I did notice it, I pushed them all to the side because I had other more pressing things to deal with.


As a working single mom, daily life is exhausting as it is without having to think about what your body is telling you. It's probably the last thing I have time for. When I did notice the symptoms in my body and decided to seek professional help, it was just after the pandemic. The slowdown during the pandemic gave me time and space to notice the changes in my body and how they affected me.





It broke my heart when I received the test results to confirm that I was postmenopausal. I felt like I betrayed my body. I didn't give it the care it needed when it needed it the most. I disregarded all the symptoms because I had more important things to do.


I wished I had known all that I needed to know about menopause earlier and I wished I had done something about it earlier. I wished I was prepared for the journey. Quite frankly, ignorantly, I only knew menopause as having hot flashes, night sweats, and then your period stops. How hard could that have been? I didn't know anything basically!


Post-menopause - I still experience symptoms and it's frustrating. It also affects me mentally. I keep feeling defeated. I now try to support my body the best way I can, but I still feel defeated. I have bad days and I have good days.


If you're going through menopause, or if you're approaching it, I want to share some things I wish someone had told me. These are things that I learned through my own experience, and what I've read about so you can be prepared for your own journey.



menopause

Understanding Perimenopause, Menopause and Post-Menopause

Before we go into detail about how menopause can and most probably will affect your lives, let's clarify what perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause are.


Perimenopause is the transitional phase that precedes menopause, and it typically begins in your late 30s or early 40s. During this time, your ovaries start producing less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle and fertility. These hormone fluctuations can lead to a range of symptoms, from irregular periods to mood swings and hot flashes.


Menopause, on the other hand, marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. It is officially defined as the absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months. Most women experience menopause in their late 40s to early 50s, but the age at which it occurs can vary widely.


Postmenopause is the stage in a woman's life that begins after she has gone through menopause. During this phase, women no longer experience monthly menstrual cycles or menstrual bleeding. Hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone, stabilize at lower levels. While some symptoms of menopause may persist, they are generally less severe and less frequent, also uniquely dependent on the individual.


Understanding these stages is important because they represent significant biological and hormonal changes that impact a woman's health and well-being. Each stage brings its own set of challenges and opportunities, and knowing what to expect can empower you to navigate this journey with grace and confidence.





Why Women Go Through Perimenopause and Menopause

So, why do women go through perimenopause and menopause in the first place? These natural processes are primarily driven by biological changes in our bodies.


Throughout our lives, our ovaries produce eggs and the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones not only regulate the menstrual cycle but also play a crucial role in our overall health, including bone density, metabolism, skin and hair health, cardiovascular health, and sexual function.


As a woman approaches her late 30s and 40s, the number of eggs in her ovaries decreases, and their quality declines. This leads to hormonal shifts, particularly a decrease in estrogen and progesterone production. These hormonal changes are the underlying culprit behind the emotional and physical symptoms that accompany all three stages of menopause.




The Role of Oestrogen and Progesterone in a Woman's Body

Estrogen and progesterone are two essential hormones that play significant roles in a woman's body primarily produced by the ovaries, with smaller amounts being produced by the adrenal glands and fat cells.


Exactly what roles do they play in our bodies?

Estrogen Menstrual Cycle Regulation

Estrogen is responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle. It helps stimulate the growth of the uterine lining (endometrium) during the first half of the menstrual cycle.


Fertility

Estrogen plays a key role in a woman's fertility by promoting the development of eggs in the ovaries.


Bone Health

Estrogen helps maintain healthy bone density. It inhibits bone resorption, the process where bone tissue is broken down, and encourages bone formation. This is why postmenopausal women, who have lower estrogen levels, are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.


Cardiovascular Health

Estrogen contributes to healthy blood vessels by supporting the production of nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels and regulate blood pressure. This hormone may also help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.


Breast Health

Estrogen influences breast development and helps maintain breast tissue.


Metabolism

Estrogen helps to regulate metabolism and fat storage. Estrogen also has indirect effects on metabolism by affecting other hormones, such as insulin and leptin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to regulate blood sugar levels. Leptin is a hormone that helps the body to regulate appetite. When estrogen levels decline, women may experience changes in their insulin and leptin levels, which can lead to changes in metabolism.



Progesterone Menstrual Cycle Regulation

Progesterone complements estrogen by preparing the uterine lining for potential pregnancy during the second half of the menstrual cycle. If pregnancy doesn't occur, progesterone levels drop, triggering menstruation.


Pregnancy Support

During pregnancy, progesterone is crucial for maintaining the uterine environment and preventing uterine contractions that could lead to miscarriage. It also helps prepare the breasts for lactation.


Mood Regulation

Progesterone has a calming effect on the brain and can help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of well-being.


Temperature Regulation

Progesterone slightly elevates body temperature, which is why women often experience a slight increase in basal body temperature after ovulation.


Breast Health

Like estrogen, progesterone also influences breast development and helps maintain breast tissue. It can, however, contribute to breast tenderness and swelling, especially in the days leading up to menstruation.


Together, estrogen and progesterone maintain a delicate hormonal balance in a woman's body. They are not only crucial for reproductive health but also impact a wide range of physiological functions, including bone health, cardiovascular health, and emotional well-being.


Hormonal imbalances can lead to various health issues, which is why understanding these hormones and their roles is essential for your overall health and well-being.


What You Can Expect With Menopause 1. Menopause is not a one-size-fits-all experience

Every woman's menopause journey is different. Some women experience mild symptoms, while others experience more severe symptoms. Some women sail through menopause with ease, while others struggle.


It's important to remember that you're not alone. Menopause is a normal part of life, and it's something that millions of women experience every year.



2. Menopause symptoms can start years before your periods stop

The perimenopausal period is the time leading up to menopause. It can start as early as your late 30s or early 40s, and it can last for several years.


During perimenopause, you may experience a variety of symptoms, including, but not limited to:

  • Irregular periods

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Mood swings

  • Sleep problems

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine if you're in perimenopause and further help you develop a plan to manage your symptoms.



3. Menopause symptoms can last for years after your period stops

Menopause is officially defined as the time when you haven't had a period for 12 consecutive months. But even after your periods stop, you may still experience some menopause symptoms.


For example, hot flashes and night sweats can last for several years after menopause. Vaginal dryness can also persist for many years.


It's been two years since my period stopped and I still suffer from hot flashes, hormonal headaches, anxiety, digestive issues, and night sweats to name a few. My hair loss is more severe now than it has ever been and it's quite scary.



4. Menopause can affect your mental health

Menopause can cause a variety of mental health symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Mood swings

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Memory problems


5. Menopause can affect your body image

Menopause can cause a number of physical changes, including:

  • Weight gain

  • Loss of muscle mass

  • Decreased bone density

  • Changes in skin texture

  • Gray hair

  • Thinning hair

  • Skin dryness

These changes can lead to changes in your body image. It's important to remember that you're not alone and many women experience body image changes during menopause.



6. Menopause increases your risk of certain health conditions

Osteoporosis

Estrogen helps to protect bones from thinning and fractures. When estrogen levels decline, women are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.


Heart disease

Estrogen helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. When estrogen levels decline, women are at an increased risk of developing an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.


Stroke

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in women. Menopause can increase the risk of stroke by increasing the risk of heart disease and other risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.


Type 2 diabetes

Menopause can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because estrogen helps to regulate blood sugar levels. When estrogen levels decline, women are more likely to develop insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.


Depression

Menopause can increase the risk of developing depression. This is because estrogen helps to regulate mood. When estrogen levels decline, women are more likely to experience mood swings and depression.


It's important for menopausal women to be aware of these risks and to take steps to protect their health.




7. Menopause can have a significant impact on sleep

This is because the decline in estrogen levels can lead to a number of changes in the body, including:

  • Hot flashes. Hot flashes can disrupt sleep by waking women up in the middle of the night.

  • Night sweats. Night sweats can also disrupt sleep by making women feel uncomfortable and restless.

  • Fatigue. Fatigue can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • Mood swings. Mood swings can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep.

In addition to these direct effects on sleep, menopause can also have indirect effects on sleep by affecting other hormones, such as melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles. When estrogen levels decline, women may experience changes in their melatonin levels, which can lead to sleep problems.



8. Menopause is not talked about enough

Menopause is a taboo subject in many cultures. It's not something that people talk about openly.


This lack of conversation can make it difficult for women to get the support they need during this time. It can also lead to men underestimating the severity of menopause symptoms and how they affect the women in their lives.


It's important to start talking about menopause more openly. We need to educate people about the symptoms of menopause and how they can affect women's lives, whether at work or at home. We also need to encourage men to be more supportive of their partners during this time.



9. Menopause can affect your work

Menopause can cause a number of changes that can affect your work, including:

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Memory problems

  • Mood swings

If you're experiencing any of these changes if at all possible, talk to your employer about your concerns. They may be able to make accommodations to help you be successful at work.


As I mentioned, the more educated people are about menopause, the more support women will be able to get, especially at work. Menopause is not something that you can turn a blind eye to because every single woman will go through it sooner or later.



10. Menopause can cause changes not often talked about

Changes in a woman's body during menopause that are not often talked about include:


Changes in Body Odor

Another less discussed aspect is changes in body odor. Hormonal shifts can affect your natural scent.


Joint Pain May Increase

Surprisingly, joint pain can intensify during menopause.


Increased Allergies

Some women report an increase in allergies during menopause. Hormonal shifts can affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to allergens.


Changes in Taste Buds

Menopause can bring about changes in taste buds. You might find that you suddenly have a preference for different foods or that familiar flavors aren't as enjoyable.


Eye Changes

Your eyesight may also be affected. Dry eyes and changes in vision can occur due to hormonal fluctuations.


Dental Health Matters

Hormonal changes can affect your gums and teeth, making them more susceptible to issues like gum disease.


Digestive Changes

Some women experience digestive changes during menopause. This can range from increased bloating to food sensitivities. Pay attention to how your body responds to different foods.


Hormonal Headaches

Hormonal fluctuations can trigger headaches in some women.





Menopause is indeed a complex and multifaceted journey that encompasses far more than hot flashes and mood swings.

I know, I know. All this might sound too much and scary and you're probably thinking, "But I'm not ready to be old!". But trust me, menopause is not the end of your life. It's a new chapter, and it's up to you to write it however you want.


I know that menopause can be tough. The symptoms can be annoying, inconvenient, and even downright painful. You might feel as if you're fighting a losing battle but it's important to remember that you're not alone. Millions of women go through menopause every year, and there are resources available to help you through it.


If you're struggling with menopause, please talk to your doctor. They can help you develop a plan to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.


Remember that your menopause journey is unique to you. Listen to your body and be aware of the changes that it's going through so you can manage them.


Here are a few tips for coping with menopause:

  • Be patient with yourself. Menopause is a process, and it takes time to adjust to the changes that are happening in your body.

  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you're eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.

  • Connect with other women who are going through menopause. Talking to other women can help you feel less alone and more supported.

  • Remember that you're still beautiful and strong. Menopause is a natural part of life, and it doesn't mean that you're any less desirable or capable.

Menopause can be a challenging time, but it's also a time of opportunity. It's a time to reflect on your life and to make changes that will help you live your best life.


It's important to remember that menopause is not the end of your life. It's a new chapter in your life.


So embrace this new chapter in your life and celebrate the woman that you are! You're amazing, and you deserve to be happy.

 

Sources.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): Menopause: https://www.acog.org/topics/menopause

Mayo Clinic: Menopause: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20353397

National Institute on Aging (NIA): Menopause: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/topics/menopause

North American Menopause Society (NAMS): Menopause: https://www.menopause.org/

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