Menopause is a time in a woman’s life when menstrual cycles come to an end (so no more periods!) and the levels of oestrogen produced gradually decreases, which results in a multitude of both pre and post menopause symptoms. It can either be one of the most liberating times of your life, or it may knock you for six!
Great news is that the symptoms can be adequately managed so that they do not affect your quality of life. There are a number of lifestyle and dietary changes you can make to not only help prevent some of the symptoms, but also prevent conditions which are statistically more likely to arise as a result of low oestrogen levels. If these are not enough, there are also various supplements containing Evening Primrose Oil, Isoflavones & Black Cohosh, available over the counter which can be very effective in managing symptoms.
Below you will learn:
- The main differences between perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause
- Common pre and post menopause symptoms
- How to manage pre and post menopausal symptoms naturally or with over the counter medicines
- An overview of Hormone Replacement Therapy (and what you need to know before you decide to take this)
It is important to take charge of your own health and be an informed person when deciding to take conventional or natural therapies. So kudos to you for taking the steps to learn more about pre and post menopause symptoms & how to manage them!
Without further ado, lets delve right in.
- 1 What is Perimenopause?
- 2 What Happens During Menopause?
- 3 What Post Menopause Symptoms Can I Expect?
- 3.1 Increased Risk of Coronary Artery Disease
- 3.2 Increased Risk of Developing Osteoporosis
- 3.3 Low Sex Drive
- 3.4 Insomnia and Menopause
- 3.5 Weight Gain During Pre and Post Menopause
- 3.6 Vaginal Dryness, an Overlooked Post Menopausal Symptom
- 3.7 Hot Flashes, the Most Commonly Reported Menopausal Symptom
- 3.8 Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
- 4 Final Thoughts on Post Menopausal Symptoms & How to Manage them
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a period in your life when you are transitioning from being able to reproduce, to a stage in your life where you no longer can reproduce. The main underlying factor behind all of the symptoms you will experience is that your ovaries begin to slow the production of oestrogen during this time.
Perimenopause can last anywhere from a year to 10 years until true menopause begins. Towards the end of this period, the oestrogen production drops rapidly, so you may notice you are experiencing menopausal symptoms.
If you are on birth control, it is important to continue taking it, as you are still able to get pregnant. This is because menstrual cycles continue, even though they may not be regular as they previously were, and you may even notice that you get lighter (or heavier) periods, or that you even skip a few.
What Happens During Menopause?
At this point, the ovaries stop releasing eggs and oestrogen production is minimal. As the ovaries are not releasing any eggs, you are not going to get any monthly periods.
You are classed as being menopausal when you have had no periods for 12 consecutive months. Generally, menopause hits late 40’s to 50’s and the main symptoms can last on average 5-10 years. Don’t panic though! For most women, these symptoms are manageable and they can still continue their lives as normal.
The most common pre (and post) menopausal symptoms are as follows. They are covered in more detail below, with added recommendations on how to manage them.
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- need to urinate more often
- irritability, mood swings, depression, anxiety
- dryness in eyes, mouth and on skin
- changes in libido (low sex drive)
- weight gain
- headaches & racing heart (Note: if you experience this suddenly, you should immediately get checked out by a physician)
What Post Menopause Symptoms Can I Expect?
You are officially unable to reproduce at this stage of your life, as the ovaries stop releasing eggs and producing oestrogen (all of which is responsible for pre and post menopause symptoms). This process occurs over years, and two thirds of women tend to experience symptoms during this time.
There is an exception to this, however. Removal of the ovaries due to cancer or any other health reasons may cause the woman to be catapulted into menopause due to the sudden drop in oestrogen levels in the body, but in normal circumstances, this process happens gradually over a period of years. Women in this case may be hit particularly hard with the symptoms.
Furthermore, foods treated with hormones (particularly a concern across western countries) can result in women suffering from menopausal symptoms longer, which means post menopause occurs later on.
Now, some women notice that they experience little or no post menopausal symptoms. Not all are that lucky!
Once menopause is over however, energy levels start to go back up and women report less tiredness. Hot flashes, night sweats and irritability (as well as mood changes) tend to die down, leaving women feeling significantly better.
There is however a flip side to getting over the finish line. As oestrogen levels are low, post menopausal women are now at an increased risk for heart disease and osteoporosis.
Increased Risk of Coronary Artery Disease
To explain further, oestrogen maintains cholesterol levels in the blood, so lower oestrogen levels means you have less cholesterol regulation which can lead to heart conditions linked to hypercholesterolaemia (high cholesterol levels).
When fatty deposits build up in the artery walls surrounding the heart it results in narrowing (at best) or blockage (at worst) of the arteries. This is referred to as coronary artery disease, and higher levels of cholesterol in post menopausal women increases the risk of developing it.
Dietary changes (cutting out processed and fatty foods, adding nuts, vegetables, grains, oily fish to diet) and lifestyle adjustments (more exercise, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption) can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and various heart diseases.
Increased Risk of Developing Osteoporosis
Oestrogen, produced by the ovaries, helps determine bone density and strength by controlling the activity of osteoblasts (bone building cells) & osteoclasts (cells which absorb bone tissue). Lower levels of oestrogen means the bones are less dense which predisposes to fragile bones, increasing risk of broken and fractured bones.
Altering your diet and lifestyle, and making sure you regularly commit to doing weight bearing exercises can significantly reduce the chances of you developing osteoporosis. When you do load bearing exercises, naturally it applies pressure on your bones which stimulates the osteoblasts to increase bone density and mass. This strengthens your bones and reduces risk of fractures and broken bones, whilst simultaneously keeping you healthy and fit.
Adding omega oil rich foods (nuts, oily fish, etc.) to your daily diet can also help reduce risk of osteoporosis, so if you are not getting enough through your diet you can consider supplementing with over the counter Omega Oil Supplements. Vitamin D and B Complex is also beneficial at this stage.
Low Sex Drive
One of the common symptoms that both pre and post menopausal women can suffer with is the occurrence of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). A study carried out in 2006 showed HSDD was significantly higher in women who were surgically post menopausal than women who were naturally post menopausal. Additionally post menopausal women were more likely to have a low sex drive than women who were pre menopausal.
Reasons for this may include stress, increased vaginal dryness, little or no interest in partner, or a whole host of other reasons. This can lead to decreased sexual satisfaction, less active sex life and a reduced sense of satisfaction in the relationship.
At this point, it is important to communicate honestly and openly with your partner and maybe introduce some variety into your sex life so you can once again become excited at the thought of being intimate with your partner. Here is a great round up with experts who give top tips on how to get the desire back into the relationship.
Insomnia and Menopause
Many women will tell you that one of the most troublesome and common post menopause symptoms is insomnia. Tossing and turning for the majority of the night can be hell when it happens on a regular basis, and can leave you feeling tired and irritable the next day. Long term problems can affect work, relationships and social outings, which means that you feel worse.
Although there are many over the counter sleep aids available, some natural, others conventional, there is other changes you can make to get a better nights rest.
A randomized clinical trial conducted in 2012 showed that yoga decreases chronic sleeplessness in post menopausal women who had been clinically diagnosed with insomnia. The study lasted four months, and results clearly show a reduction in severity of insomnia and stress, and a significant boost in the quality of life.
Weight Gain During Pre and Post Menopause
Weight gain is a common and oftentimes the most detrimental menopausal symptom due to the fact that it increases the risk of developing comorbid conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension), conditions that are already more likely to develop due to low oestrogen levels.
In addition to the above issues associated with weight gain, many women begin to feel depressed with the added pounds that refuse to shift and it can directly knock their confidence. Being overweight also means you tend to feel hotter, which doesn’t help when you are likely to suffer from hot flashes, again as a result of low oestrogen production during menopause.
Weight gain during menopause may occur for a number of reasons: low oestrogen levels may slow the metabolism, make you less physically active and increase the storage of fat. Add that to the fact that it is harder to lose weight around the waist line, and this is where a lot of women find they are piling on the pounds…. it’s just not easy.
Best thing you can do is to live a healthy, active life before menopause. Once you have hit menopause, you can still stem this and other post menopause symptoms by having a diet and lifestyle overhaul.
Add nuts, grains, greens into your diet as well as oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, etc. and eliminate processed, high fat foods. Commit to exercising for atleast 30-40 minutes four to five times a week. Brisk walks, yoga, jogging, swimming, cycling…any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat a little (or a lot) is fine.
Vaginal Dryness, an Overlooked Post Menopausal Symptom
Due to the low oestrogen levels, vaginal dryness and in turn uncomfortable and painful sexual intercourse is also common in women going through menopause. Although not all women suffer from this for too long, it is a post menopause symptom that some suffer with for years after menopause.
Good news is that you can buy lubricants over the counter that can significantly ease these symptoms and make your intimate moments comfortable and non painful. If these are not useful and you feel you need something more conventional, you can speak to your physician about topical oestrogen creams, which can help eliminate dryness.
Hot Flashes, the Most Commonly Reported Menopausal Symptom
Hot flashes are another well known, and perhaps the most common, pre (and post) menopausal symptom.
What are hot flashes, you might ask? Low oestrogen levels means the hypothalamus in the brain doesn’t regulate temperature as effectively, so you begin to really feel the heat, quite literally.
If you are experiencing getting rapidly hot, intense heat which leaves you with chills after, racing heartbeat, tingling in the fingers and relentless sweating, then you may be suffering from hot flashes.
Firstly don’t stress! Stress, alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, tight clothing and nervousness can all bring on hot flashes, so you want to steer clear of these.
If you try your best to avoid these triggers, but are still regularly getting the hot flashes and it is affecting your quality of life, try herbal supplements such as Black Cohosh, Evening Primrose Oil and Isoflavonoids. These natural supplements can help prevent and stem these symptoms.
If all else fails, and the symptoms are unbearable or you are at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases for example, then HRT might be the best fit for you.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT is a double edged sword. On one side it has benefits as it reduces the incidence of developing cardiovascular diseases, as well as keeping cholesterol in check and cutting the risk of developing osteoporosis. This then means the longevity of life is extended as women are less likely to die from these comorbid conditions. Another benefit is that it can help manage pre and post menopause symptoms, thus improving the quality of life.
That being said, on the flip side, it is important to note the detrimental effects of HRT if taken long term.
A lot of women are started on Hormone Replacement Therapy to lower the risk of osteoporosis and other postmenopausal conditions as well as to manage menopause symptoms, but studies have shown that long term use of HRT (particularly Oestrogen only HRT) can significantly increase the chances of you getting ovarian cancer. The risk of cancer increases as you age anyway, but hormonal medication can increase that risk.
Furthermore, taking into account race, BMI and various other factors, HRT use has been associated with a 20% greater increased breast cancer risk for white, asian and hispanic women. Although this may sound worrying (and it is if you are on HRT longterm!), you and your health provider need to weigh the benefits against the risks of you taking HRT. In many cases, it could improve the health and longevity of life.
For this reason you should aim to check in with your physician once a year regarding your continued therapy. The aim should be to take the lowest strength of HRT for the shortest period of time to adequately control pre (and post) menopausal symptoms.
It is also important to understand which type of HRT you should be taking. Women who have an intact uterus should always take combination (oestrogen and progestin) HRT. Oestrogen causes the lining of the uterus to thicken and taking oestrogen without progestin can cause the lining to overgrow and the cells to progress to cancerous stages. Taking progestin in combination means that these cells shed monthly, cutting risk of developing cancer.
Final Thoughts on Post Menopausal Symptoms & How to Manage them
Post menopause symptoms, which can continue on from menopause, can be effectively managed with lifestyle adjustments. For example, yoga can significantly improve insomnia and trying to arrange ‘date nights’ may help to reignite the spark between you and your partner if you are experiencing low sex drive.
If these options are being implemented to little or no benefit, then you can try herbal supplements containing Black Cohosh, Isoflavonoids & Evening Primrose Oil to keep the hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, mood changes and insomnia at bay.
In addition to this, lower levels of oestrogen (which is responsible for the pre and post menopause symptoms) is also linked to increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes – all of which can be prevented to some extent by changing your diet and lifestyle.
Eating protein rich, low fat foods and exercising regularly (particularly load bearing exercises) can help prevent these conditions, whilst keeping the body supple, fit and toned. You can also take Omega oil, Vitamin B Complex and Vitamin D supplements to help protect against osteoporosis and promote bone and joint health, as well as boost your energy levels.
If these changes are being practiced, but you are still experiencing symptoms or are at risk of developing these conditions linked to post menopause, then you can speak to your physician about trying HRT.
Last thing to remember is this: Hitting menopause does not have to be a dreaded event. Yes, you are likely to have symptoms during menopause, in fact post menopause symptoms are also relatively common, but focus on the positives… this could be an immensely liberating event, a time when you and your partner can freely indulge in pleasuring one another without factoring in whether or not you can get pregnant!
You might find the passion returns, you are no longer suffering monthly with menstruation related issues (breast tenderness, mood swings, abdominal cramps, etc), and once you are over the thick of menopause symptoms, you are likely to feel energetic and uplifted! Take that holiday you always wanted to, without thinking about cramps, menstrual cycles or how not to get pregnant…
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