Menopause is The change’, ‘the climacteric’, ‘the time of life’ call it what you will, it is an unavoidable fact that all women go through the menopause. However, for many women this natural process is a time of anxiety and distress due to the various symptoms that can accompany it. Some menopausal changes can also be brought about by treatments for cancer, including chemotherapy, ovarian ablation and hormone therapy. Whatever their cause, this fact sheet aims to explain just what these changes are, and what you can do to make things easier.
What is the menopause?
The menopause refers to that time in every woman’s life when her periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 51. In a few exceptional cases women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger. This is then known as a premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency.
The menopause is influenced by hormones or more correctly, by a change in hormone levels. During a woman’s fertile years, her ability to produce an egg each month is associated with the release of three reproductive hormones (oestradiol, oestrone and oestriol), that are referred to collectively as oestrogen. Oestrogen is mainly produced by the ovaries, though small amounts are also made by the adrenal glands and by the placenta of a pregnant woman.
It is oestrogen which stimulates female characteristics at puberty and controls a woman’s reproductive cycle: the development and release of an egg each month (ovulation) for implantation in the uterus (womb), and the way in which the lining of the womb thickens to accept a fertilized egg. The monthly period happens because no implantation has taken place – there is no pregnancy – and the lining of the womb is shed.
As women get older, their store of eggs in the ovary decreases and their ability to conceive diminishes. At this time, less oestrogen is produced, causing the body to behave differently. However the body does not stop producing oestrogen overnight, and the process can even take several years, during which symptoms arise gradually. This gradual change is called the ‘peri-menopause’.
At around the age of 50-55 years, the monthly cycle stops completely so no more ovulations, no more periods and no more pregnancies. This is the menopause.
What happens and how does it feel?
For some women this loss of reproductive ability may be deeply felt, and for all women the menopause is a personal experience, not just a medical condition. However, the diminishing release of oestrogen from the ovary as women advance into their 40s is often the cause of symptoms which can be distressing and may need medical attention.
Hot flushes are the most common symptom of the menopause, occurring in three in every four menopausal women. Other common symptoms include night sweats, sleeplessness, vaginal dryness, irritated skin*, more frequent urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections, low mood and a reduced interest in sex. Symptoms vary hugely in duration, severity and what impact they have between women.
Formication can be defined as itchy skin or a crawling feeling as though tiny insects are on the body. This usually occurs early in the menopause or soon after the last period and does eventually disappear on its own.
All the common symptoms of the menopause are associated with a decrease in the body’s production of oestrogen. Oestrogen lack can affect many parts of the body, including the brain, causing changes in emotional well-being, and the skin, influencing its elasticity and thickness.
Once the ovaries have ceased their production of oestrogen, other changes take place which may have more of an effect on long-term health. Most commonly these changes affect the strength and density of bones, increasing the risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. The bones of the female skeleton depend on oestrogen to maintain their strength and resistance to fracture. However, while there’s no mistaking a hot flush or vaginal dryness, there are no obvious symptoms of osteoporosis is the first sign is usually the fracture of a bone. It’s for this reason that osteoporosis has been called “the silent epidemic”.
There is also some evidence that oestrogen deficiency is the cause of some chemical changes in the body which make women after the menopause especially vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.
How can I manage my symptoms?
Acupuncture can help balance your hormones and alleviate many of the symptoms associated with menopause.
Michelle uses a combination of Chinese Medicine Acupuncture, Aromatherapy and Nutrition to help get the best of outcomes the management of menopause. There is much research supporting the effects of Acupuncture and Aromatherapy as well as understanding nutrition when you are going through menopause.
For women going through menopause, hot flashes can be one of the most uncomfortable symptoms. But a new study suggests that acupuncture may help to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes among menopausal women.
A study found that menopausal women who underwent acupuncture experienced a reduction in the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to 3 months.
Many women choose to have a natural treatment rather than hormone therapy treatment which is the use of medication that contains oestrogen or progesterone. Such treatment has positive actions but can increase the risk of other health conditions, including stroke, heart disease and cancer.
It's no wonder more and more women are looking for natural treatments to help them manage the transition of menopause.