Chatting about menopause for October 18 and World Menopause Day!
by Aline Filipe Nunes, women's health physiotherapist
Menopause is the name we give to the last time a woman had her menstrual period. Having a latin origin, the word comes from meno- pausis, meaning the stop or pause of the monthly flow. Although the prospects of not having the period may sound good for some, others dread at the thought of it.
Why is menopause seen as a bad thing?
In Australia, menopause occurs in average around 51 years old however, the common period is situated between 45 and 55. If earlier than this it is said that there was an early or premature menopause.
The peri menopausal period (this means 'around menopause') is often associated with many symptoms such as:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
- Aches and pains
- Fatigue or irritability
- Mood swings
- Premenstrual such as sore breasts
- Bloating and gastrointestinal complaints
- Decreased cognition and brain fog
- Dry skin
- Decreased vaginal lubrication and decreased libido
- Pain during sex
- Urinary frequency
- Sleeping problems and insomnia
These symptoms can last from 5 to 10 years after menopause so, no wonder many women do not look forward this time. However, it is important to mention that not every woman feels these symptoms. About 20% of women will not feel any symptoms at all and 60% of them only feel them mildly. However, the remaining 20% of women will feel these symptoms more severely.
So why do these symptoms happen?
During the peri-menopausal period hormonal changes start to occur with a permanent drop of the production of oestrogen until a new lower level is found. Oestrogen is a sexual hormone that is linked to serotonin, a chemical that regulates mood, emotions and sleep.
After menopause, this new lower oestrogen level has an effect on our sex drive, musculo-skeletal system and sleep. There is often a reduced libido, vaginal dryness and pain that can occur during intercourse. Skeletal muscle mass, strength, and regenerative muscle capacity can explain the fatigue, aches and pains associated with this period. The lack of oestrogen associated with sleep deprivation seems to be a major contributor to mood swings, anxiety, irritability and brain fog.
A cool fact!
Research has shown that peri-menopausal symptoms don’t seem to be linked to only hormones alone. Did you know that the way we perceive menopause seems to have a direct impact on the severity of symptoms. Cultures where being old is seen as something negative, report more severe symptoms. So, considering that women currently live about one third of their lives after menopause, it is crucial to spread the word that there is treatment and there is a lot you can do to improve your life and decrease your symptoms. Start with a different outlook for this period of your life.
Here's a plan to tackle menopause head-on!
- Exercise. Exercise appears to improve many menopause related symptoms, in addition to being a great way to improve weight, body strength and bone health. Exercise also helps with cognition and mood swings as well as improves self esteem, libido and stress levels. Exercise is also linked top reduced changes to develop cancer and other diseases. What a great way to improve or maintain your quality of life during menopause!
- Eat well. Eat your vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats and legumes to help your gut, improve digestion and, as a consequence, improve your energy levels and mood.
- Sleep! Stress ( due partly to lack of sleep) is a major hormonal disruptor and has a direct impact in your whole body. Stress can worsen your gut, impact your sleep further and worsen your mood symptoms.
- Pelvic floor physiotherapy (contact us!). If you have any pain during intercourse, vaginal dryness or urinary related symptoms (such as incontinence, urgency, increased frequency to empty bladder or bowel), a women's health physio is an expert therapist at helping you with these issues 'down below!'
- Counselling or psychology. Finding yourself a good counsellor can help you transition through this period. Some of us may feel that menopause is a period that transitions a woman from a fertile to infertile period. Some women need to go through the mourning of what their body was and what it is now. Having someone to debrief this is often crucial so women can embrace their new life period in full.
Be kind to yourself.
The period around menopause is a symbolic period of change and often women use it to define new goals and set new commitments. Having some time off and time to restore energy is crucial in order to embrace this new beginning and assess your lifestyle and overall health and relationships.
It is crucial to mention that, if you believe that you are going through early menopause, finding a good team is crucial. A woman that goes through menopause around her 40s has a higher chance to develop osteoporosis and other health problems hence, menopause hormonal therapy, being low risk, can be recommended. If you have concerns regarding this, ask your doctor.