What is menopause?

A woman is born with a finite number of eggs, which are released each month with menstruation. Menopause occurs when you have exhausted all the egg supplies in your ovaries. Clinically, it is defined as the cessation of periods for 12 months or more. It is a natural event marking the end of your reproductive years, just as your first period marked the start. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55.

The impact that menopause has on your health is largely due to a decline in your oestrogen levels, which comes about because you are no longer producing eggs. Dr Iris Wang provides guidance on what you can do to ease some of the symptoms of menopause, and to stay healthy during this time.

Symptoms of menopause

As you approach menopause, your hormone levels fluctuate and your periods will change. Your cycles might become longer, shorter, or unpredictable. Bleeding may be lighter, or even heavier. Eventually, your periods will stop altogether, and this is how you know you have reached menopause.

Your body goes through significant hormonal changes during menopause, and the symptoms are many and varied. Some of the more common things you may experience are:

  • hot flushes and night sweats,
  • tiredness, difficulty sleeping,
  • aches and pains,
  • forgetfulness,
  • headaches,
  • irritability and mood swings,
  • reduced sex drive,
  • frequent need to urinate,
  • vaginal dryness or
  • discomfort during intercourse.

A decrease in female hormone levels after menopause can lead to problems with bone health (osteoporosis) and an increased risk of fractures. You might also be at a higher risk of heart attack and heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

How to manage menopause

Menopause is a natural occurrence in a woman’s life, but some of its symptoms and effects can be unpleasant or detrimental to your bone and cardiovascular health. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to minimise the risk of osteoporosis, hypertension and heart attacks, and reduce some of the symptoms.

The most important measure you can take to keep healthy during menopause is doing regular exercise. Exercise is beneficial for the protection of both your heart and bones. A good exercise regimen should include aerobic exercises, balance building and weight training. If you are not already doing regular exercise, try going out for walks and doing some weight training in the gym for your upper arms. Weight-bearing exercise like this is particularly important for your bone health.

Regular bone density screening is also recommended, in addition to keeping up with your regular Pap tests and mammograms every two years.

A healthy, balanced diet is important – you should also make sure to include low-fat dairy foods with high calcium content. Iris can assess and monitor your calcium and vitamin D levels. If they are insufficient, there are supplements available.

Short-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also be used to reduce many of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. Some women find over-the-counter medications useful with controlling symptoms. There is no objective evidence that these work, but if they work for you then and they are otherwise safe, there is no reason why you shouldn’t use them.

If you are worried about menopause, or your symptoms are interfering with your life, seeking expert advice can be very beneficial. Iris can help you devise a plan for long-term management, or discuss treatment options for your symptoms.