What are the Effects of Menopause on the Body?

Thursday 17 December 2020
Hormones

Table of Contents


I. What is Menopause?

II. Hot Flashes

III. Vaginal Changes

IV. Mood and Mental Changes

V. Sleeping Problems


What is Menopause?

Menopause is the point in a woman’s life when she stops having menstrual cycles. In the United States, the average age of menopause is 51 but it can occur in your 40s or 50s. Menopause is diagnosed after twelve consecutive months without a menstrual period. [1]

Menopause lasts for around seven years or more. Menopause affects your body in several different ways. In addition to the absence of menstrual cycles, symptoms can include hot flashes, sleeping difficulties, and more. [2]

The frequency and severity of menopause symptoms vary greatly between women. Factors that can increase the duration and severity of symptoms include cancer, having a hysterectomy, and smoking. [3] When symptoms are severe, your doctor may suggest hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

HRT involves replacing the hormones estrogen and progesterone as they are reduced during menopause. Medications including Estraderm patches (estradiol), Climara Patches (estradiol), and Premarin Cream (conjugated estrogens) can all be prescribed to relieve menopause symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about how menopause affects your body.

A middle-aged woman reading the newspaper at an outdoor table

Hot Flashes

When many people women think of the symptoms of menopause, the first thing that comes to mind is hot flashes. However, all menopauses are different. Around 25 percent of menopausal women do not experience hot flashes. On the other hand, around 15 percent of women will have severe hot flashes. Women who have undergone surgical menopause or are taking tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer are more likely to experience these hot flashes. [3] [4]

A hot flash is an intense and sudden warm feeling across your face, neck, and chest. Sweating, face reddening, and feeling chilled are other common symptoms. [5]

Hot flashes (or vasomotor symptoms) usually last between three and five years and are usually at their worst in the year after your final menstrual period. Hot flashes are not limited to menopause and may occur during perimenopause, a period of transition into menopause. [4]

Vaginal Changes

Menopause causes several changes to the vaginal and reproductive areas. The primary change to your reproductive system is the end of your menstrual periods. However, this is not the only change.

Reduced amounts of estrogen can cause your vaginal lining to become thinner, causing vaginal secretions to decrease. The result is vaginal irritation and dryness. Irritation in the vaginal wall can lead to atrophic vaginitis.

Vaginal dryness can also lead to painful sexual intercourse. Many women experience a lowered libido during menopause due to a drop in estrogen levels. Painful sex can further lower a woman’s sex drive. If regular vaginal sexual activity is avoided, the vagina may become shorter and narrower, leading to further pain. Continuing to have regular vaginal sexual activity can help; keeping vaginal tissues thick and lubricated can reduce vaginal dryness and pain. [6]

Mood and Mental Changes 

Research shows that mood swings are more common during perimenopause, when hormone levels are changing than menopause. Emotionally, feelings during this time, and feelings felt during PMS (premenstrual syndrome) are often similar.

a woman ignoring a man

A major mental change may be increased irritability. Up to 70 percent of menopausal women experience irritability as their primary emotional problem during the transition of menopause. This can include becoming aggravated by things that would not previously annoy them. [7] Other emotional changes include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Aggressiveness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Fatigue [8]

With all of these emotional changes, it is important to watch out for signs of depression. Around 20 percent of women may go through a period of depression at some point during menopause. [9]

Sleeping Problems

Many women experience sleeping problems or insomnia during menopause. Disrupted sleep can lead to fatigue and the other mood changes mentioned above.

Sleep may be disrupted by night sweats, a form of hot flashes that can wake you up. Even when night sweats do not wake you up, its disruption still reduces the therapeutic properties of sleep. [4]

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep. While this condition can affect anyone, lowered levels of estrogen and progesterone can increase your risk of getting it. [10] 

A middle-aged woman fanning herself with an electric fan

As people age, sleep cycles can change. Many women going through menopause have difficulties falling asleep or falling back asleep after a disruption. These changes to sleep cycles may occur at the same time as menopause. Ask your doctor if you are unsure why your sleep cycle has changed. 

Menopause is an important stage of life. The physical changes that menopause brings will impact each woman’s emotional well-being in different ways. Being able to feel in control of these changes can help improve your overall health. Your doctor may offer you medication like Estraderm patches (estradiol), Climara Patches (estradiol), and Premarin Cream (conjugated estrogens) to help you during this transition. Menopause is a natural process. Like any other natural process, understanding your body and having the right resources will ensure you are comfortable during this part of your journey.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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