Menopause can mark a brand-new chapter in your life; one of golden, carefree days full of life and light. It can be the precious beginning of a season of new moments and memories fuelled by old wisdom and new wonder. However, as you enter life after menopause, along with all the wonderful days in store, you may also experience a handful of uncomfortable health hiccups. While many women sail through menopause with few or no symptoms, some have a little more trouble with the transition. By staying prepared, you can know what to expect and protect yourself against possible changes.
The Basics of Menopause
Menopause refers to the absence of menstrual periods for a period of 12 months and signals the functional cessation of a woman’s ovaries. Menopause is a gradual process and is preceded by a transitional period known as perimenopause. Although the process happens differently for every woman, the average age of menopause is 51 years.
Common Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause heralds an array of changes, some serious, others, not so much. While you may not be affected by all the possible symptoms, it is wise to stay in the know of what might strike.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
The pelvic muscles lose their strength over time and especially weaken after menopause, leading the uterus, bladder, rectum and vagina to sag. In some cases, one or more organs may bulge out of the body, brushing against clothes and causing discomfort, bleeding and pain. Pelvic organ prolapse can also make bladder and bowel movements a challenge. Women who have had vaginal deliveries or who have recently gained weight are more prone to pelvic organ prolapse.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be an embarrassing and emotionally isolating experience for many women. In reality, upto 50% of women suffer from some form of prolapse, making the condition far more prevalent than commonly believed. If you feel something protruding from between your legs or have trouble urinating or passing stools, it’s best to see a urogynaecologist at the earliest. If your case is diagnosed as mild, your doctor may prescribe pelvic floor exercises to fortify your pelvic muscles. More severe cases may warrant surgery or the insertion of a pessary.
As the liver ages, its ability to restore itself becomes compromised. With menopause, comes a drop in oestrogen, which interferes with liver function. Instead of replenishing healthy cells, the liver starts to produce scar tissue. In addition, repairing damage caused by alcohol, overweight and infections becomes a challenge. A buildup of scar tissue can lead to chronic liver disease.
Liver disease doesn’t exhibit symptoms until much later stages, so it is vital to take preventive action to guard yourself against the risk. Ask your doctor to run a liver enzyme test to check for potentially elevated levels. Higher levels suggest abnormal liver function capable of severe degeneration.
Mood swings are a normal part of menopause, and are usually triggered by seesawing hormones. Occasionally, however, they can be manifestations of a deeper rooted autoimmune problem like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune problems can be stimulated by dormant conditions or be a result of fresh hormonal changes.
If you suspect an autoimmune disease or have previously been diagnosed with one, meet a gynaecologist to discuss your concerns. A customised treatment plan can help you fight the condition and keep you mentally and physically balanced.
Did you know women harbour small amounts of testosterone too? Only, during menopause, testosterone levels dramatically fall, reducing the function of the meibomian glands. The meibomian glands are the glands responsible for producing an oily film over the eyeballs, and their compromised function can lead to increased water evaporation and in turn, more dryness and discomfort. Menopause also challenges the lacrimal glands, which produce antibodies to protect the eyes. All these factors together increase the risk of dry eye.
Be regular with eye checkups, even if you are gifted with 20/20 vision. If you already experience dryness in your eyes, meet an ophthalmologist and have your eyes tested. Lubricating eye drops are often enough to manage dry eye. Tear duct plugs may also be recommended to you.
Hot flashes can be rude interruptions while you’re sleeping, but the truth is, menopause may play with your sleep in more ways than one. Studies show that menopausal women face more than 3 times the risk of sleep apnoea than premenopausal women. Sleep apnoea tends to arrest breathing for several seconds during sleep and can increase the chances of diabetes, stroke and other conditions.
If you do experience symptoms of sleep apnoea, meet a sleep specialist to seek help for your condition. The most obvious symptom of sleep apnoea is snoring, although snoring by itself does not point to the condition. Sleep apnoea also gives rise to insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. Your doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure or a dental insertion to open your airways while you sleep.
If you’re waiting to cross the bridge to menopause, take heart in knowing that most of these symptoms are temporary and it’s up to you to look beyond them. By embracing menopause with grace and holding your head up high, you can open a golden chapter that will likely be your best one yet.