Did you ever ask, How do I know if I’m in menopause and how can this period of my life be lived out well?”
Menopause is a season, not a disease. It’s not fatal. In fact, it is a good time to take stock. In the same way that a harsh winter is always followed by spring and new life, menopause can be a precursor to a fresh beginning for the rest of your life. Take time to reflect on what you did right the first two-thirds of your life, and care to dream about your next twenty-five years or so.
Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition or perimenopause.
The effects of menopause on the body
Estrogen and progesterone are the primary female hormones related to reproduction. When ovarian function declines with age, ovulation doesn’t occur regularly. This leads to irregular or missed periods.
Eventually, the ovaries stop ovulating altogether, and periods stop completely. This results in lower levels of estrogen and progesterone production by your ovaries.
While your period may have been changing over the last several years during perimenopause you don’t technically hit menopause until your monthly period has stopped completely. This means your body stops producing eggs for fertilization.
Menopause can also affect other parts of the reproductive system. When you’re no longer going through monthly cycles, you may not have any thickening of cervical mucus toward the middle of your cycle, a symptom that often signifies ovulation.
Overall vaginal dryness and a lack of libido can also occur with menopause, but these don’t have to be permanent.
The endocrine system includes the hormones responsible for reproduction. These include the hormones related to menopause, or in this case, a lack thereof: estrogen and progesterone.
Hot flashes are among the most talked about effects of menopause. These occur from a lack of estrogen. They can also last a few years after menopause.
Menopause causes your body to reserve energy more, which means you won’t burn calories and fat as easily. This can lead to weight gain. Menopausal women are also more prone to gaining weight around their midline.
Menopause can affect your overall mood. You may feel happy and like yourself one day but then down the next.
You may also experience mood swings that cause irritability.
Menopause can also be a trigger for depression.
Sleep can also be challenging during menopause. A drop in estrogen can cause hot flashes and night sweats that keep you up at night. These effects also make it difficult to fall asleep.
For unknown reasons, menopause is also said to affect memory. Memory loss is more common with age, but it’s unclear whether there’s a strict menopause connection or if another underlying cause may be at play here.
Immune and excretory systems
A drop in estrogen levels may also lead to bladder leakage, also called incontinence. You may find you urinate more often or you leak when you laugh, work out, or sneeze. Frequent urination can also interfere with your sleep.
Estrogens exert a cardioprotective effect on the body and lower levels of estrogen may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lower levels of estrogen also affect the body’s cholesterol, which could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Skeletal and muscular systems
Menopause causes your bones to lose their density. This can increase your risk of bone fractures. Menopausal women are also at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
A loss of muscle mass during menopause may also occur at a higher rate than before. Your joints may also become stiff and achy. Regular exercise can help reduce the loss of bone density and muscle mass. It may also reduce symptoms of joint pain.
This all sounds like really bad news. You may ask again, “How can my life be lived out well with all this going on?”
For many women, menopause becomes a natural time to take stock of their lives. They decide to take a fresh look at their relationships, their professions, the ways they’re caring for their own health, and the ways they want to expend their energy.
Menopausal women start to ask themselves if they’re headed in the direction they want to go, both professionally and personally, and whether the way they’re spending their time is meaningful to them.
So, stop holding back and start living the last half of your life with great anticipation. Take necessary “time outs” to reduce stress and start taking chances on things that you didn’t have time for.