https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy/how-is-chemotherapy-used-to-treat-cancer.htmlIt’s a topic that we hate thinking about but will affect us all at some point in our lives. There’s no getting around it. We’ll go through this time of knowing that our fertility is coming to an end, as we have no eggs left.
But do you really know what this means for you? Do you actually understand what the symptoms of menopause are or what you’ll expect to feel and experience while going through this period in your life? It can be a nerve-wracking time for some women. For others, it’s a depressing one.
It doesn’t have to be. By knowing what’s coming, you can get ready for it and work through this stage.
Menopause: It’s Not the End of Your Life
Many women worry that menopause means that their life is coming to an end. Mortality fears set in because your fertile point of your life has ended. But it really doesn’t have to be the case. Look at it as the start of a new stage in your life.
Menopause is when you don’t have your periods for at least a year, which happens because of the decrease in hormones in your body. Your ovaries are no longer producing oestrogen for the body, which is the actual reason for all the symptoms you’ll experience during menopause.
Most women experience this around the early 50s. But you can start to see signs of it from your mid-40s. You may experience fewer periods, as your ovary functions drop. There are some women who don’t experience anything until their late 50s. Like with anything related to hormones, every woman is different.
It is possible that you’ll be able to look at your genetic history to get a rough idea of when you will start the menopausal period. However, if you’ve had chemotherapy, if you smoke, or take part in anything else that can affect the hormones, you may find that this stage starts earlier.
There are some women who don’t even know if they’re going through menopause. This is especially the case with women who have had a hysterectomy or endometrial ablation in the past. If your ovaries weren’t removed at this time, you’d still have to go through menopause. Some doctors choose to leave the ovaries to avoid complications with hormonal changes. It’s best to let nature take its course for this.
On the other end of the scale, there are women who go through menopause earlier. If you suffer from primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), you are likely to go through menopause before you turn 40. POI means that your body has lower levels of oestrogen, which means that all the bodily functions that rely on it are affected. If you are diagnosed with it early, there is the chance that you can reduce the chances of going through full menopause at a younger age.
It’s worth looking out for some of the signs of menopause, such as hot flashes so you can see your doctor right away.
You may not have any of the symptoms of menopause, which we’ll move onto soon. Once you turn 50, your doctor may want to do blood tests to see if your ovaries are still functioning or see if you are menopausal. This is possible through a quick blood test and is very routine.
Do you really need to know if you’re going through or have gone through menopause? Well, it can be helpful. The drop in oestrogen can lead to some health problems, including osteoporosis. Knowing that you’re a risk for this can help improve your lifestyle and diet to protect your bones. Your doctor will also be able to check for other issues related to low oestrogen or at least make a note of menopause if you come back with symptoms of problems.
Did You Know You Can Still Get Pregnant Just Before Menopause?
While your periods aren’t regular, before you are officially menopausal, you can still get pregnant. This is why it is important to continue having protected sex if you don’t plan on having any more children. It is harder to get pregnant, but still certainly possible, and there have been women in the past who have found themselves accidentally pregnant.
Remember that while your ovary functions are dropping, there are still some functions there. They will still release, and you will still have a bleed now and then. Your uterus still works, and you will still have all the other abilities to grow a foetus.
Doctors recommend that you keep going with birth control until a year after your last period. Some of the most popular options are the various types of contraceptive pills because they can help to regulate the bleeding and keep it minimal. However, the coil, patch, and injection are also recommended because they can be easier to remember than taking a pill a day. You may prefer to stick with good old-fashioned condoms.
Perimenopause: The First Stage
Now we’ve gone through when it’s likely to happen and why it happens, it’s time to look at the timeline broken down in stages. The first stage of menopause is known as perimenopause. It’s that point where your oestrogen production starts to drop, and you get some of the clues that your ovaries are not longer functioning as they should.
This is when you’ll start getting the irregular periods. You may also notice that your vagina is drier than normal and that you suffer from more mood swings—if you’re anything like me, this can be a difficult one to spot because the moods are always all over the place! Hot flashes and sleep issues are also common at this point in your life. Think about it; if you have hot flashes, your body will wake you up in a sweat and wanting rehydration.
The vaginal dryness can even be a problem during sex. If you want to continue being intimate with your partner, it could be worth investing in a lubricant. There’s nothing wrong with needing this at this stage and after menopause. Make sure you both enjoy this time together.
All symptoms of the perimenopausal stage are linked to your hormone levels. There are some tests that can be conducted to check to see if you’re at this stage, but they’re usually reserved for if you’re going through this earlier than average or if you are going through fertility treatments. Knowing that you’re at this stage could help you make decisions on other treatments; decisions that you wouldn’t have made had you not known you were close to no more periods.
Not all the testing is accurate, and some of it will be expensive. This is why it’s usually reserved for a small group of women.
Could it actually be a thyroid problem instead? It’s a question some women have, especially when they’re younger than the average person. In fact, your doctor may order a test to see if your thyroid is the problem. Those who have an underactive thyroid gland can experience many of the same symptoms as pre-menopause, which is why they will test for this first.
An underactive thyroid means that the metabolism doesn’t work as well as it should. There are high risks of osteoporosis and heart disease. Some of the symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, and irregular periods.
It could also be the opposite: an overactive thyroid. This condition means that your thyroid gland is working too much, and you could experience hot flashes, heart palpitations, and poor sleep.
Don’t worry if your perimenopausal symptoms turn out to be either of these problems. They are managed through medication, although it may take some time to get the right balance for the rate that your thyroid gland is working. Once you get the balance, you’ll find that the symptoms disappear.
Treating the Perimenopausal Stage
While you can treat the thyroid problem, there isn’t much that you can do for perimenopause. This is a normal stage and something that comes to every woman at some point in their life.
The only thing you can do is treat the symptoms and allow them to work their way through. Once you are menopausal, you will find that the majority of the symptoms ease off completely.
So, what options do you have?
Some doctors will opt for birth control pills. While they don’t help stop menopause alltogether, they can help to regulate your cycle better. They make it easier to predict when you will have a bleed, and there are studies that show they can help to ease some of the hot flashes and other symptoms.
But aren’t people who take birth control pills at a high risk of cancers, high blood pressure, and other problems? There are certainly risks and your doctor will check to make sure you are a candidate first.
There are other medications if you can’t take them. These include antidepressants, blood pressure medication, and even drugs for epilepsy. While they tend to be labelled for certain issues, they help to treat some of the symptoms of menopause. For example, some antidepressants help to deal with the hot flashes. They can also helpto deal with the mood swings you may experience.
Of course, you don’t just need to rely on drugs to keep your symptoms to a minimum. There are lifestyle changes that you can make to help.
If you’re suffering a hot flash, remove a layer of clothing where possible. Sit by a window or under a fan and make sure you have a glass of water to drink. If your issue is weight gain due to the lower oestrogen levels, consider more exercise or a change of diet to help you out. Reducing the stress you feel can also help to avoid some of the mood swings, and removing triggers like alcohol or smoking could help.
What about your sleep issues? Reducing the stress you feel can help. Exercise and avoiding caffeine, especially later in the day, has been known to improve the chances of falling asleep. You may find that some white noise makes it easier to fall asleep or just having a cool sheet or a window open slightly to help eliminate hot flashes while sleeping will help.
Vaginal dryness isn’t just a problem during intercourse. You may find it uncomfortable and itchy. Try using a lubricant during the day to ease some of the discomforts. If you speak to your doctor, he may also be able to prescribe acream that helps to avoid dryness problems.
There have also been looks into herbal remedies, especially those that are full of phytoestrogens. They are similar to oestrogen, but currently, more research is needed to see if they really do work and whether there are any risks associated with them. It’s worth discussing this with your doctor before you start opting for herbal remedies and creams.
But what about hormone therapy? This is a controversial treatment that not all doctors are happy with. In fact, there are risks to opting for this, including a higher risk of breast cancer and stroke. Your doctor should discuss all the risk factors before you go ahead with this.
The hormone therapy was once known as hormone replacement therapy. Women take oestrogen and progesterone to help put the hormones back into their bodies. This helps to lower the risks of some problems linked to low oestrogen, but is it worth the other risks? If you decide to opt for it, start on lower doses of the therapy and work your way up. Your doctor will check on you regularly to make sure there are no adverse effects.
Menopause: The Second Stage
After perimenopause comes the menopause. This starts when you have your last period—and is something that you won’t know happens right away. You could just think that it is another irregular one. You won’t know until a year has passed.
The symptoms are all very similar to the perimenopause stage. You may also suffer from low sex drive, a racing heart, headaches, and sex may be painful.
The second stage may take some time from the first stage. In fact, you can go through perimenopause for around four years before you have your last period!
Once you’ve had this last period, you can’t get pregnant. However, because you won’t know it’s your last, you will need to keep using protection until you are certain you have gone through it.
It is important to keep track of your cycles. Make a note of any bleeding that you have, regardless of how irregular it is. Your doctor will be interested in this to make sure your body is going through this stage correctly.
Post-menopause: The Third Stage
This is the third and final stage of menopause. It starts the year after your last period, and this is the stage you will be in for the rest of your life. You can’t get pregnant at this point, and you shouldn’t have any vaginal bleeding at all. If you do suffer from any, do make sure you talk to your doctor to get your health checked out. Vaginal bleeding could be a sign of infection or cancer.
Some women find this stage especially difficult. Throughout perimenopause and menopause, there is always the chance that there will be another period. You have it in mind that you could still have a baby if you want one. The postmenopausal stage is one that highlights the start of the end for many women.
It’s easy to become focused on this, especially if you have grandchildren to look after or you’re trying to care for elderly parents. You don’t have the time to look after yourself, so you get run down, tired, and depressed.
Spend some time on yourself when you reach this stage—you should spend time on yourself anyway. Use this as a reason to pick up a new hobby or enjoy a vacation with your loved ones.
If you are suffering mentally from this stage, discuss it with your doctor. He will be able to help you find ways that help you move past it, including through the use of antidepressants.
This could actually be one of your most positive times in your life. It’s a chance for you and your partner to connect in other ways, and you can focus on living your life the way you want to. While negative thoughts are common, it’s so important to make sure you have some positive thoughts at the same time.
Some women find that appreciating the small things in life helps them through this part. They know that they are in the final stage of their life, but that doesn’t mean their life has to end completely. They still have energy and want to do things that they couldn’t have done when they were younger. What would you really like to do now?
Find Ways to Relax
You may still have some of the menopause symptoms in the third stage. Your oestrogen levels are low, which means vaginal dryness and discomfort remain problems. You may also find that your moods still swing on a daily basis.
Finding ways to relax is important. When you relax your whole body benefits. The body finds it easier to get the little oestrogen it has left around your body, and you will find that happier thoughts are easier to come by. Creativity and concentration levels increase, which can help you do more throughout the day. All these working together can help to reduce the symptoms you may experience.
Make sure you spend time on yourself. Eat right and exercise throughout the week. Your whole body will appreciate it.
Don’t Forget the Support System
You’re not the only woman to go through this. Your mom, sister, aunts, and even friends will or may have already been through it. They’re there to help support you—and you can support them if they go through it at a later stage.
Having a support system is important. When you’re having a down day, you can phone someone up and talk about it. This is also a great way to get out of the house and make sure you don’t focus on all the negatives surrounding this stage of your life.
And the support doesn’t have to be just female. You can talk to your partner about this part of your life, especially if you’re both sexually active. You can find comfortable ways to be intimate to make sure you both enjoy it, and it could bring out a new spark in the relationship. The connection you can get with your partner by sharing your feelings more can also help.
Stay Mindful Within the Moment
We all tend to worry about the future. We fear what will come up in our lives, especially when it comes to menopause and the after effects. While menopause is normal for every woman, it doesn’t stop us feeling like our lives are coming to an end.
It’s worth focusing on the moment. Enjoy your individual days and don’t worry as much about what it still to come. Most women will start menopause in their 40s or 50s, and there are still plenty of years to live. This isn’t the end of your life, and you don’t need to act like it is.
Spend some time just with yourself and don’t forget to have your support system. Look out for the symptoms of menopause, so you know when the first stage starts. This doesn’t mean you’ve lost your chance to have children or that you can’t have anymore, but if you don’t want anymore, make sure you are using contraception until you have gone a year without a period.
This could be the best time of your life. There are moments of feeling more free and relaxed. You can deal with the symptoms, and your doctor will go through all the options available to do depending on any other health issues that you have. Stay mindful and appreciate each day as it comes.