Understanding menopause

  • Health
  • Sunday, 03 Dec 2006

Tell Me AboutBy Dr YLM 

I AM experiencing irregular periods now. I am in my mid-forties. Am I having menopause? My friends say I cannot be having menopause because menopause comes with “hot flashes”. 

Every woman experiences menopause differently, and menopause isn’t a single one-off event. It’s an accumulation of transitory events.  

It can start as early as in the 30s or as late as the 60s. Most women experience it during their 40s or 50s. There are grandmothers in kampungs at the age of 60 still getting pregnant and giving birth! 

You cannot say you are having menopause now because you have only one symptom of menopause. A woman may experience signs and symptoms of menopause well before her periods stop permanently. But it’s safe to say that once you don’t have your period for 12 months, you’ve had menopause. 

Why does menopause occur?  

When you age, your ovaries make decreasing amounts of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, the ones which regulate your menstrual cycle, ovulation and pregnancy.  

Menopause is divided into: 

Perimenopause – beginning from the time when you start experiencing menopausal signs and symptoms. You may still be ovulating during this time. Your hormone levels are uneven and your periods are irregular. This part may last four to five years or longer. 

Postmenopause – When you have had 12 months of no period, you are considered to have reached menopause. Then the years that follow are called postmenopause.  

Other than irregular periods, what kind of symptoms will I experience with menopause? 

Every woman experiences menopause differently, so her signs and symptoms are also going to be very different. You cannot compare what your mother or sister went through with what you are going through now.  

Some women have very few symptoms. Other women suffer greatly. But the things you generally have to look out for are: 

Irregular periods – Some women stop menstruating suddenly. Some find their menstruation tapering off. Yet other women find their menstruation getting heavier for a while, and then stopping altogether.  

But it’s safe to say that if your periods have been regular and predictable, and they suddenly become irregular and unpredictable, this might be the first sign you are going through menopause. 

Decreased fertility – You become less likely to become pregnant. Anyway, this happens with age. 

Vaginal and urinary changes - Your vaginal and urethral tissues become drier, thinner and less flexible. This is caused by decrease of the hormone oestrogen. You may experience burning or itching in the area because there is decreased vaginal fluid to lubricate it.  

Sexual intercourse may become painful or difficult. There is also an increased risk of vaginal or urinary tract infections. Not all women will experience this. 

Hot flashes – Again, this is caused by dropping levels of oestrogen. Your blood vessels may expand, causing more blood to rush to your skin. This can lead to a feeling of warmth that moves upwards from your chest to your shoulders, neck and head (“hot flash”).  

Your face is flushed, and red blotches may appear on the affected skin. This may be associated with sweating (including night sweats), chills and weakness. Some women even feel slightly faint. Most hot flashes last from 30 seconds to several minutes.  

Sleep disturbance – Some women experience difficulty falling asleep or sleeping well through the night. 

Weight gain – Some women gain about 3kg on average during menopause. The fat that was once in your hips and thighs may settle around your waist instead. Your breasts may sag. Your hair may thin and your skin may wrinkle. All this is because of dropping oestrogen.  

Emotional and memory changes – Some women are irritable, tired and have problems with memory and concentration.  

My mother says that if I don’t have children, I will get menopause earlier. Is this true? 

No. But there are some conditions that can hasten menopause. 

If you have your womb and ovaries removed for any reason at all, the removal of your ovaries will hasten menopause simply because oestrogen is not produced anymore. When you remove your womb alone, it doesn’t cause menopause.  

If you have had chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, this can induce menopause.  

About 1% of women also experience menopause before age 40 due to genetic factors or autoimmune disease. This is called premature menopause.  

Is there anything I can take for menopause? 

Yes. Hormone therapy relieves the symptoms of menopause. The newer hormone therapies are safer than the older ones. Ask your doctor to tell you your options. 

As for your diet, you should eat plenty of vegetables, grains, fruits, and calcium. This will help combat osteoporosis.  

  • Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health advice, computers and entertainment. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information. 

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