Even though menopause is a biological inevitability for all women from their mid-40s onwards (it can be earlier, but this is less common), it is still something that raises lots of questions for those approaching this stage of life.
In this article I’ll deal with the simple medical definition of menopause, the common symptoms that women may experience and the options for dealing with them, and how long the process of hormonal change is likely to last.
What is menopause?
In very simple terms, menopause is the active process of change that signals the biological end of a woman’s reproductive years. Menopause is generally defined as starting when you have experienced no periods for at least 12 consecutive months.
However, menopause is actually the middle of three stages that make up what many people refer to as ‘the change’.
Perimenopause is the first stage, and this may start up to ten years before periods cease. You may not realise you are in perimenopause, but one tell-tale sign is a persistent or regular change of 7 days or more in the start of your menstrual cycle.
Post-menopause is the final stage of menopause, and this is essentially an ongoing state in which your hormonal balance has been restored, you no longer have periods (and are therefore unable to become pregnant) and no longer experience adverse side effects or symptoms.
There are, typically, two types of menopause – surgical and natural, though invasive medical treatment, such as cancer treatments, can also trigger sudden menopause that is neither natural nor surgical.
Surgical menopause is the sudden result of an operative procedure, usually the removal of the ovaries, and is less common.
Natural menopause happens when the ovaries begin to reduce production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which together control menstruation, and testosterone (estrogen also has other functions, such as maintaining cholesterol levels and dictating or influencing how calcium is used by the body).
The final contributor to natural menopause is that the ovaries eventually stop producing eggs, ending menstruation.
Symptoms during menopause
The sudden reduction of the three key hormones associated with reproductive function causes hormonal imbalance which can trigger a number of physical and emotional responses and reactions, some of which can be unpleasant and/or distressing.
Together these symptoms are the manifestation of your body trying to adjust to this sudden imbalance.
Most women will experience some menopausal symptoms (it’s possible to go through menopause without experiencing any symptoms at all) but not all women will experience all symptoms. The most common symptoms of menopause include:
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes and/or extreme fluctuations in temperature
- Night sweats
- Loss of libido
- Vaginal dryness
How long does menopause last?
The honest answer to this question is that it varies from individual to individual.
Perimenopause can begin up to a decade before you enter menopause as the body prepares itself to end the reproductive function. However, it’s generally accepted that this first stage of ‘the change’ lasts around four years on average.
Menopause also lasts an average of around 4 years, though it is not uncommon for it to continue for longer, and around 1 in 12 women can experience symptoms for anything up to 12 years.
Post-menopause, when hormone levels achieve a consistent balance, lasts for the rest of your life, and is generally symptom-free.
What are my treatment options?
Here at The Natural Doctor we offer what is known as Bioidentical (or body identical) Hormone Replacement Therapy, or BHRT. This is just as effective as the synthetic treatments you are likely to be offered by your GP and uses plant-based compounds to replicate your body’s natural hormones.
BHRT has been championed by some notable celebrities, including Davina McCall and Angelina Jolie and is often the preferred choice for women who are concerned about media reports in the past that have linked synthesised HRT treatments to an increased risk of other conditions such as cancer, blood clots or heart disease.
In some cases, women who opt for BHRT simply want a more natural and safer approach to treatment than conventional hormone therapy can offer.
If you think you may be in perimenopause or menopause and want to discuss the benefits of BHRT, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.