Menopause - Just the Facts

The ovaries, on either side of the uterus, produce the hormone estrogen which regulates your menstrual cycle from puberty to menopause. As the production of estrogen declines, the less regular your periods will become. This disruption of the cycle is usually the first sign of approaching menopause. Even though your periods may be irregular, you are not completely free of the risk of pregnancy until one year after your last period. Surgical removal of the ovaries also will precipitate the onset of menopause.

What to expect:

Hot Flushes (flashes) is the most common symptom of menopause. This sudden feeling of heat that rushes to the upper body and face will affect as many as 75% of menopausal women. Your skin may redden, similar to blushing, or you may break into a sweat. Different women experience these sensations at different intervals, from two a month to several a day. Some women will experience them for a few short months, others for several years. The important thing to know is that while these flushes can be irritating, inconvenient, and embarrassing they are not harmful in any way.

Sleep Disturbances may be one of the biggest problems you face as you approach menopause. Hot flushes can wake a woman from a deep sleep, and even without the hot flushes most women complain about not sleeping soundly during this phase of life. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, health, and ability to cope with daily activities. Without experiencing deep REM (rapid eye movement stage of sleep where dreaming occurs), you can wake up and not feel rested. Some women report that it takes longer to fall asleep. Talk to your doctor at The Woman's Clinic about how you can get better sleep.

Vaginal and Urinary Tract Changes also occur due to the loss of estrogen. The lining of the vagina may thin and become drier. These changes can cause pain during sexual intercourse. They can also make the area more prone to infection. The urinary tract also changes with age. The urethra can become dry, inflamed, or irritated. Some women find they may need to urinate more often. There may also be an increased risk of bladder infection after menopause.

Bone loss is a normal part of aging. At menopause, the rate of bone loss increases. Osteoporosis, which can result from this bone loss, increases the risk of breaking bones in older women. The bones of the hip, wrist, and spine are affected most often.

Heart health is also an important concern. Estrogen protects women from heart attacks and stroke. As estrogen subsides, you lose this natural protection and the risk of heart attack and stroke then increases.

Emotional changes can occur during menopause. While menopause does not cause depression, the changes in hormone levels can make you feel nervous, irritable, or very tired. These feelings may be linked to other symptoms of menopause, such as lack of sleep. Stress can magnify these feelings; for example, you may be watching your kids leave home for college. That emotional stress when combined with lack of sleep and hormone fluctuations can lead to depression.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please make an appointment with your doctor to discuss ways that are available to help you feel your best.