By Loraine Balita-Centeno
We’re all headed there and there’s no point resisting the inevitable. When we’re done bearing beautiful spawns, nature takes its course. Soon you’ll start having irregular periods with cycles coming further apart. This initial stage according to the US National Institute on Aging (NIA) is called the menopausal transition (or perimenopause), which often starts between the ages 44 to 55. This can last up to about seven years or as long as 14 years, after which the period slowly tapers off until it completely stops coming. When the woman has stopped getting her period for 12 straight months she is considered to have reached menopause.
And while it sounds like a sweet retirement from a lifetime of using pads, and enduring painful cramps (or messy sheets and undergarments), the time from perimenopause until the period actually ceases coming is marked by hormonal changes in the body. These changes are accompanied by some symptoms than can be mild for some and severe for others. While some women do not report bothersome symptoms of menopause others report getting hot flashes, trouble sleeping, moodiness and irritability, pain during sex, or depression, according to the US NIA.
In addition to these symptoms according to The Northwestern University Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI), “the inevitable changes in a woman’s hormones and natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can significantly affect her health for years to come.”
Here are some health concerns women going through menopause need to be aware of according to the WHRI.
“The estrogen depletion that comes with menopause results in an increased risk for low bone mineral density, osteopenia, and osteoporosis,” says WHRI. Five to 10 years into your menopausal years this could lead to further weakening of the bones, which makes older women prone to fractures and injuries.
Brain and Nervous System:
Aside from hot flashes, the hormonal and biochemical fluctuations in a woman’s body that happens during menopause can also cause mood swings, fatigue, difficulty focusing, anxiety, and even depression. It’s like having World War III inside your body where you are constantly bombarded with an onslaught of hormones. So this could explain why your pesky neighbor keeps getting to your nerves, the emotional stress along with the rollercoaster surge of hormones may be the culprit.
Estrogen depletion also puts the woman at risk of developing a host of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure, which could cause a stroke or a heart attack. The World Health Organization lists cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death among women around the world.
Hormonal changes during menopause causes your skin to lose its water-retaining ability and elasticity, which is why menopausal women often have dryness of skin and itching and sudden increase in wrinkling and sagging or their arms or legs as well as other body parts. Yes, the skin around the breasts loses its elasticity, too, this is why around this time the girls start going south.
The decrease in estrogen according to WHRI also causes the surface of the urinary tract to become dry whichleads to an increased risk in developing urinary tract infection, or incontinence. Some even report frequent trips to the bathroom due to increased need to urinate often. Even the lining of the vagina becomes less flexible or elastic, which can cause genital itching or burning sensation while urinating.
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) advises women who are approaching perimenopause to:
(1) Keep a menstrual calendar and keep track of her symptoms which she can discuss with her healthcare provider. This helps her assess if the symptoms are within the normal range or have gone too extreme and might need intervention.
(2) Do bone-strengthening exercise that can help with the menopause-related bone loss. This could include a simple weight bearing exercise (which means you carry your own weight in activities), strength training exercise, and balance work.
(3) Maintain regular sleep schedule, avoid heavy evening meals, and caffeine or alcohol, and adjust level of noise, light and temperature in the room. These help with anxiety and sleep problems.
(4) Do pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegel) to help avoid urinary incontinence. Kegels involve “contraction and relaxation of the muscles that control urine flow, strengthening them so they can better support the bladder,” says NAMS. You do this by contracting the muscles to a count of three and then releasing . Do 10 of these five times a day.
(5) Avoid smoking and stress. Get adequate sleep and exercise, drink plenty of water, and maintain a healthy diet of leafy greens and vegetables.
Self-awareness at this time in our lives is the key to helping keep these risks at a minimum and our loved ones aware of our sudden mood changes (if we find the patience to explain to them what’s happening). Knowing that your body could just be adjusting to the surge of hormonal fluctuations helps us keep the emotional and psychological stress from taking over our lives.