Last modified on May 22nd, 2020
Physical Changes Associated with MenopauseWomen may have different signs or symptoms at menopause. That’s because estrogen is used by many parts of their body. So, changes in how much estrogen a woman has can cause assorted symptoms. But, that doesn’t mean she will have all, or even most, of them. In fact, some of the signs that happen around the time of menopause may really be a result of growing older, not changes in estrogen.
Ovarian Estrogen ProductionDuring the perimenopause, estrogen production by the ovaries declines to about 10% of the level of the estrogen produced prior to perimenopause. At menopause, the ovaries disregard the signals to produce estrogen. It’s the body’s way of indicating that the woman’s reproductive time is coming to an end. Ovarian-produced estrogen is called estradiol; only this form of estrogen decreases dramatically at menopause. Estrone estrogen, manufactured by, and stored in, the body’s fat cells and other tissue, continues to be present in the bloodstream because its production isn’t controlled by ovarian function.
Changes in the Vulva, Vagina and BladderThe vulva and vagina are very responsive to estrogen levels. Elasticity, lubrication, and thickness of the vaginal walls are affected by declining estrogen, and the tissues of the labia majora and minora become less engorged during sexual arousal. The mucous membrane lining of the vagina is particularly susceptible to irritation, minor injury, and infection as the capacity to produce lubrication decreases. Normally thick and cushiony, the vaginal walls can thin during menopause and after. The actual size of the vagina shrinks, as does the uterus. The cervix may atrophy (shrivel) and flatten out to the wall of the vagina. The Venus mound, or mons, loses plumpness and definition.Changes in the lining of the urethra and bladder can cause irritation as well, leading to an annoying need to urinate frequently. Supporting muscles to the internal organs lose elasticity because of reduced blood flow to the pelvis. This is especially distressing if it leads to involuntary urine loss (urinary incontinence) when exercising, sneezing, coughing, laughing, running, or having sex. Some women experience thinning of their hair, including pubic hair and this can be as distressing for a woman as it is for a man.
Body ChangesA woman might start thinking that her body is changing. Her waist could get larger; she could lose muscle and gain fat; her skin could get thinner; she might have memory problems; and her joints and muscles could feel stiff and achy. It is still unclear if these changes as a result of a woman having less estrogen or just related to her growing older.
Secondary Health Concerns Associated with MenopauseOsteoporosis and cardiovascular (heart disease) are two common health problems amongst others that can start to happen at menopause.
OsteoporosisOsteoporosis means porous bones. Day in and day out, a woman’s body is busy breaking down old bone and replacing it with new healthy bone. Estrogen helps control bone loss. This is a gradual process of aging, but it’s noticed most dramatically at menopause when estrogen levels drop. So losing estrogen around the time of menopause causes women to begin to lose more bone than is replaced. In time, bones can become significantly more brittle and, at the same time, take on a honeycomb quality, making them much more susceptible to breakage. A bone density test may be necessary to find out if a woman is at risk of this problem.
Heart DiseaseAfter menopause, women are more likely to have heart disease which is the number one cause of death in postmenopausal women. Although men tend to have heart attacks during their 40s, women seldom do because of the protective effect of their estrogen prior to menopause. Estrogen and progesterone both influence a woman’s cardiovascular system. As estrogen production declines, “bad cholesterol” (LDL) tends to increase because blood lipid patterns have changed. Once they lose the protection of estrogen, women are more prone to heart attacks and stroke.Thus as she ages, she may develop other problems, like high blood pressure or weight gain, that put her at greater risk for heart disease. A woman should ensure to have her blood pressure and levels of triglycerides, fasting blood glucose, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and total cholesterol checked
Sleep ProblemsA woman might start having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. She might not be able to fall asleep easily, or may be waking too early. Night sweats might wake her up. A woman might also have trouble falling back to sleep if she wake up during the night.
Mood Swings and Decreased ConcentrationMenopause has been blamed for a number of emotional problems women have, like being more moody, irritable, depressed, or even experience memory losses around the time of menopause. In fact, estrogen and other therapies do not cure clinical depression. The bottom line is that menopause may bring some temporary emotional disequilibrium, but it is a normal, not debilitating, condition. However if a woman finds that she has lost interest in activities in which she took pleasure in previously; has sleep disturbance that is not responsive to estrogen or homeopathic treatment; feels consistently sad or hopeless or unable to concentrate effectively; and/or if someone close to her expresses concern about her mood, then she should seek evaluation for clinical depression.
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