What is menopause and what are the symptoms

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Menopause is a physiological process typical of women, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, which coincides with the cessation of the menstrual cycle and the consequent loss of fertility. Menopause should not be considered as a disease but as a natural stage that every woman has to face at some point in her life. The evolution of menopause follows a slow and progressive development through some symptoms that serve as warning signs announcing the onset of menopause.



Why do women go through menopause?

During the period when women have their menstrual cycle monthly, the ovaries produce a certain amount of hormones: estrogens and progesterone. Menopause occurs precisely as a consequence of the aging of the ovaries that can no longer produce these two hormones. In fact, the reduced production of progesterone and estrogen occurs a few years before definitive menopause and manifests itself with a menstrual cycle that is increasingly less present and irregular until it completely disappears (amenorrhea). From a clinical point of view, a woman is officially declared in menopause when the menstrual cycle has disappeared continuously for more than a year.


The stages of menopause

To be more precise with the term menopause, it refers to a stage of what the International Menopause Society defines as climacteric, that is, that period of time that goes from 45-50 up to 60 years and which includes premenopause, menopause and post-menopause.



The first stage of the climacteric is called premenopause and includes the transition period from the fertile phase to menopause. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this intermediate period should be defined as peri-menopause and in this phase the levels of estrogen and progestin in women begin to fluctuate and we see the appearance of the first symptoms of menopause. In fact, in the peri-menopause period menstruations will be irregular and it will be more difficult to predict on the calendar the date on which they will arrive again. In this regard, we can distinguish between more frequent and close menstrual cycles (polymenorrhea) and menstruations spaced further apart in time(oligomenorrhea). It is not possible to establish a precise duration of premenopause as it changes from woman to woman.



Menopause is identified with the last menstruation and is characterized by those symptoms known to many women, such as hot flashes, irritability, vaginal dryness, headaches, insomnia, palpitations etc. It is a very delicate phase, that of menopause, that each woman faces differently. Doctors advise taking this period with great calm, so as not to stress both the emotional state and the body, already extensively involved in the disorders of menopause. The duration of menopause wavers between 4 and 8 years, in smokers and women in whom menopause began at a young age, this period may last longer.



This phase is simply the period that begins after menopause and lasts for the rest of a woman’s life. The body faces a moment of stasis as the level of hormones is completely depleted and even the symptoms of menopause have definitively disappeared. For a woman in post-menopause, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle starting from balanced nutrition to regular physical activity, as much as possible, without forgetting that, even though hormonal activity has ended, it is always useful to undergo regular medical check-ups. Much attention is crucial because hormones, in a woman’s life, play a highly protective function. When they are lacking, it is easy for cardiovascular diseases to occur or the risk of developing osteoporosis increases.


Menopause, Diagnosis

In most women, the onset of menopause is quite evident, and almost does not require further confirmation from the doctor. However, what is called early menopause can occur. This particular phase can depend on both a family type of natural predisposition or, unfortunately, from a not very healthy lifestyle in which there is excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking accompanied by an unbalanced diet. Early menopause can also be of artificial or induced type, in this particular case it occurs when the woman has undergone a hysterectomy or has undergone chemotherapy cycles. Only in particular circumstances, as can be early menopause, does a woman undergo medical checks that include blood tests to measure hormone levels, and an examination with pelvic and mammary ultrasound.


Menopause symptoms, treatments

As for the treatment of menopause symptoms, it is important to identify, based on the needs of the woman in question, what is the most appropriate therapy to follow. With menopause, the level of hormones decreases consequently following a treatment that involves the integration of hormones would be the right path to follow. Moreover, a hormone-based therapy helps the body to protect itself against osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. However, it is always up to the doctor to evaluate the risks/benefits of his patient before starting a particular hormonal therapy. There are other therapies that do not involve the use of estrogens. One of these makes use of certain pharmacological treatments, such as the use of antidepressants or the anticonvulsant drug gabapentin. Some women rely on over-the-counter supplements to alleviate menopausal disorders.


Hot flashes, how to alleviate them

The most common disorder and definitely the most embarrassing and annoying of menopause: hot flashes deserves a separate paragraph. Almost 75% of women in menopause suffer from it and it represents one of those uncontrollable disorders that appears at any time of the day and night; it presents itself as a wave of heat which results in sweating and reddening of the skin. To alleviate hot flashes it may be useful to dress in layers and use clothing that ensures good perspiration. Avoid, as much as possible, too hot environments. Follow a regular diet trying not to abuse spicy foods and finally, as always, carry out a constant physical activity to keep your body weight under control.


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