Menopause is the permanent cessation of menstruation in the absence of any other pathological condition. It is a normal progression in the life of a woman. In the USA, the average age of menopause is 52 years.
The period leading from the reproductive age to menopause, during which hormonal and physical changes take place gradually, is called climacteric. Climacteric usually lasts 1-2 years but may take up to 5 years.
Symptoms of menopause
- Hot flashes
- This is the most common symptom. Hot flashes occur in the upper part of the body and may come with sweating.
- Vaginal dryness and decreased libido
- Menstrual disturbances
- Concentration disturbances
- Depression and anxiety disorders
However, some women may not experience such symptoms during menopause.
How does menopause affect woman’s health?
During menopause, oestrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries is significantly decreased. In the long term, this may increase the risk of specific health problems.
- Cardiovascular disease
Oestrogens contribute to proper cardiovascular functioning. Reduced levels of oestrogens increase the risk of atherosclerosis. As a result, the risk of cardiovascular disease during menopause increases 2-3 times.
The risk of having a stroke doubles for every decade after 55 years of age. Low levels of oestrogens lead to atherosclerosis of the arteries of the brain.
Osteoporosis is a gradual and “silent” disease because it has no symptoms until a fracture occurs. Low levels of oestrogens relate to increased loss of bone mass and increased risk of developing osteoporosis.Factors such as age over 65 years, family history of bone fractures, history of low-force fracture, smoking, early menopause, rheumatoid arthritis, taking steroids and loss of height require the measurement of the bone density to check for osteoporosis. Ideally, bone density has to be measured in two body parts (lumbar spine and non-dominant hip).
- Urinary incontinence
After the start of menopause, the symptoms of slight urinary incontinence, that is “accidental urine leaks”, might become apparent, mainly due to reduced levels of oestrogens and natural ageing.
Gynaecological tests in the menopause
The breast examination by mammography should be performed once a year.
- Papanicolaou test
It needs to be performed once per year until the age of 65, given that you undergo regular checkups and the results are not pathological.
- Bone density measurement
Ideally, it has to be made in two body parts (non- dominant hip and spine). Alternatively, until the age of 60-65, the measurement takes place in the spine, which is affected more by the lack of oestrogens, while, after the age of 65, it can be performed in the hip.Bone density test has to be taken, for the first time, at the age of 50. If the results are completely normal, a repeat test should take place after 2-3 years. However, if there are abnormal findings, the test should be repeated every year.
- Transvaginal ultrasound of the uterus and the ovaries ideally needs to be performed once a year in order to check the ovaries and the endometrium.
How to stay healthy during menopause
- Be active
At least 30 minutes of physical activity every day is very important for keeping a healthy body and mind.
Two types of exercise are important for the protection of your bones
1. Exercises without weights like walking, jogging and “jumping rope”
2. Strengthening exercises using weights, ropes or resistance equipment
- Watch of your diet
It is recommended that you eat a lot of proteins. Proteins satisfy your appetite, increase the metabolic rate and reduce the muscle diminution during weight loss.
Include dairy products in your diet. Researches show that dairy products may help you lose fat while maintaining muscle mass.Choose food with high content in soluble fibre. Consuming food high in dietary fibres like avocado and broccoli may increase the sensitivity to insulin, reduce hunger and lead to weight loss.
It is also important to eat consciously. Proper diet may contribute to reduce stress and improve your relation with food, in order to end up eating less. Keep in mind that the main idea is to eat only when necessary.
- Stop smoking
Smoking damages the bones and may cause cardiovascular diseases.