Menopause-Facts and Fallacies   

Menopause-Facts and Fallacies

It is a common health issue that women face but not many really understand what menopause is or how their lives can be affected when experiencing it. The average age of natural menopause is about 51 to 52 years. Despite popular beliefs, there is no correlation between age at first menstruation and, age at menopause. Similarly, things like sexual activity, use of any contraceptives, number of children and body build too have no correlation either. The only real influence may be smoking: Women who smoke, menopause earlier. Artificial menopause and prematurely occurring menopause, which may be due to surgery or disease can occur in much younger women. In order to understand what happens at menopause, it is first essential to understand the terms commonly used to describe it.

This is the phase of the aging process in which a woman naturally passes from a reproductive to a non-reproductive stage. In other words, it is the time wherein she losses her ability to have babies due to the natural loss of eggs.

This is the part of the Climacteric before the menopause where the woman may experience what we know as menopausal symptoms. She may also experience irregular menstrual cycles.

This refers to the final menstruation that a woman experiences during the climacteric phase.
During this 'change of life' or menopausal transition, there are a number of hormonal and physical changes that occur in a woman's body. These changes are significant enough to cause the patient some discomfort, which may cause her to seek medical attention.

The irregular menstruation that occurs during the perimenopause is due to irregular maturation of the ovarian follicles (i.e the remaining eggs) in the woman's ovaries. Ovulation does not occur with regular frequency and this results in menstrual irregularities. A large proportion of perimenopausal women visiting the gynaecologist do so for this reason.

The physical changes that start during the perimenopause stage continue till the women is post-menopausal. The woman may start to experience dryness of the vagina, painful intercourse, urinary urgency, increased urinary frequency, incontinence and tenderness of the vagina and its opening. Breast size too may drop and some women find this quite distressing.

The commonest complaint that a woman in the climacteric phase may have is that of the 'hot flash' (others refer to it as the 'hot flush')
Up to three quarters of all women go through this. These hot flashes can trouble a woman anywhere from a few months to up to five years, starting in the perimenopause phase.

The hot flash is referred to as a burning sensation of the face, ears, upper chest and often preceded by a headache. Usually lasting between four to five minutes, the hot flash can last up to 10 to 15 minutes and can be very distressing. The exact cause for the occurrence of the hot flash is unknown but is said to be due to the sudden loss of estrogen in her body.

Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass with loss of structural bone strength) is accelerated at menopause. This is only partly due to the lower levels of estrogens in the body and estrogen replacement (in the form of hormone replacement therapy) does give some protection against it. 

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