‘I think I’m going through my change ‘ I hear this so often from a lot of women, but further questioning usually reveals that a wide variety of things could be wrong, and it may not necessarily be menopause.
Many things could mimic menopause, so we should be careful not to attribute every symptom a woman has in her older age to menopause.
Some women will go through menopause with few or no troubling symptoms, and some will have severe symptoms that can significantly affect day-to-day life.
Menopause is such an important topic because every woman will have to go through this transition at some point in her lifetime. However, we don’t always have the same experience, and also, the timing is variable for most of us. It is good practice to prepare well ahead so that we can go through this inevitable transition gracefully.
There are many myths about menopause, and for some women, it’s the fear of the unknown.
I will be doing a series of posts addressing this crucial topic. This first series will look into some of the questions I get from my female patients, is this menopause or not? Could there be something else wrong with me?
The subsequent series will address how to go through this transition phase as smoothly as possible and embrace this natural phenomenon graciously.
Is this Menopause, or is it something else?
What is menopause?
Menopause is a normal, natural event. It is the final menstrual period when there has been no period for 12 consecutive months. The average age for menopause in most women is age 51. However, there is a wide variation in the age at which women go through menopause.
Some women go through menopause before the age of 40 years; this is referred to as premature menopause. Menopause before the age of 45 years is referred to as early menopause.
There is a transition period leading to the final menopause. Most women will go through this from the age of 45years. This transition is known as perimenopause. It is the period when there is a gradual decline in the levels of a woman’s reproductive hormones known as oestrogens and progestogens.
During perimenopause, the menstrual period becomes irregular. It can also become heavier than normal, and sometimes it’s frequent. For most women, the menstrual period will change from what is usual for them. This transition period can last several years before the final menstrual period ( menopause )
Also, during perimenopause, some women may start to have physical symptoms of menopause, but most women will not experience any symptoms apart from irregular periods.
Any irregular or changes to the pattern of the menstrual period in a woman over the age of 40 should be checked by a health professional first before concluding that this is due to Menopause.
There are other causes of bleeding, such as problems with the neck of the womb (cervix ) or the lining of the womb ( endometrium). However, the commonest cause is still due to perimenopause.
How do I know if my symptoms are due to the menopause?
There is a wide range of symptoms that can mimic menopause. Menopause, in itself, can present in a variety of physical and psychological symptoms.
The symptoms of menopause are due to the decline in the female reproductive hormones known as oestrogens and progestogens. As these hormones’ levels decline with age, all the usual benefits we get from them also start to wane. Some of the benefits include maintaining brain function, bone protection, regulation of menstrual cycle and fertility etc.
Common symptoms of menopause
Below are some of the symptoms of menopause.
- Irregular, heavy or light period: This may be normal for some women if this is how their period has been all their life. The only concern is if this pattern is different from the norm for that individual.
- Hot flushes: This is one of the most common symptoms of perimenopause/menopause. Most women describe this differently, but to put it simply, it is a sudden feeling of heat that occurs suddenly and spreads quickly throughout the body and face. It can be very distressing and embarrassing. It can occur during the day or at night and can be triggered by eating spicy food or having caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
- Night sweats: Excessive sweating at nights which can cause sleeping difficulties ( Insomnia )
- Tiredness and fatigue: This is a common symptom of menopause, but it can also be caused by other conditions such as thyroid disease or low blood count ( Anaemia )
- Drying and thinning of vaginal tissues leading to soreness and pain during sexual intercourse. There is also a loss of interest in sex.
- Frequent urinary tract infections ( UTI ): UTI is common in women generally but more so in post-menopausal women.
- Urinary incontinence ( weak bladder ): This will cause leakage of urine with running, laughing and any form of stress.
- Joint Pains: This is common in menopause, but it can also be caused by other joint problems such as arthritis.
- Feeling full easily ( abdominal bloating ): This can also be due to diseases affecting the ovaries, a proper medical check should be done to rule out any issue with the ovaries.
- Awareness of the heart beating fast ( Palpitations): This can also be due to other heart conditions.
- Difficulty with breathing
- Feeling irritable
- Anxiety and low mood
- Problems with memory and brain fog ( inability to have a sharp focus or think clearly ) This can be very distressing for most people and can affect concentration on a normal day to day activities
Most of us may have none or few symptoms from the list above. Some will have severe symptoms, and sometimes the symptoms can last for several years. For others, symptoms will only last for a concise period.
For those with severe symptoms, help is available. There is an effective treatment for most of the symptoms related to menopause. There are many ways to manage the symptoms, and most of these are things we can do ourselves; some will require input from health professionals.
It is good to prepare psychologically and physically before the onset of menopause. This will help to make the experience a positive one.
Five or more years ago, I came across some bible verses that relate to the experience that women go through during menopause; I decided to note them down, studied them, meditated on them and received a Rhema for my personal use.
When I started to experience some of the menopausal symptoms recently, I remembered those scriptures, and they became my armour to navigate these uncharted waters of perimenopause.
In future posts, I will be talking about how to make this experience a positive one and the help available for those with severe symptoms of menopause.
If you would like to share some of your menopause experiences or any questions related to this post, please feel free to share them in the comment section below.
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