Menopause marks the permanent ending of the menstruation in women that began with menarche in early puberty. Menopause is the sign that the body of the women has undergone changes that has marked the end of her natural ability to bear children. This is a natural process taking place in human females, when the ovaries gradually stop producing eggs and sex hormones.
The female ovaries have a finite number of ovarian follicles, which are regulated by sex hormones to develop into an egg and get released into the fallopian tube each month. With aging, not only does the supply of eggs decrease, but in addition, the ovarian follicles become less responsive to the sex hormones which lead to gradual decrease in the ovulation process.
Amazingly, most of the females of animal species and the human males remain fertile for their entire lifetime.
Climacteric or Perimenopause
Menopause is usually determined by absence of the monthly periods for nearly 12 months. At the start of the onset of menopause, the menstrual cycle begins to show changes in length and duration between the cycles.
The 10-15 years that precede the menopause are marked by gradual changes taking place in the woman’s body when the ovaries and sex hormones become less functional. Climacteric or perimenopause is a lay term that is used to describe the transition period; it is not a medical term. The period is marked with high level of hormonal, physical, emotional and psychological changes in the woman.
When a woman does not experience menstrual periods for at least a year without any medical reason, then she is said to be in the post-menopausal stage. It implies that the woman is no longer able to conceive.
For women who have undergone hysterectomy, tests are conducted to determine elevated levels of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) in the blood, which is then used to confirm whether a woman has reached the menopausal stage.
Any kind of bleeding or spotting during the post-menopausal stage should be brought to the notice of a doctor as it could be a clear sign of endometrial cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of menopause differ from woman to woman, mostly depending on her diet, health, and psychological preparedness to accept the changes taking place in her body. Some women are known to go through this phase without any symptoms or changes, other than stopping of the menstrual cycle.
The beginning sign of a menopause is the disruption in the regular pattern of monthly periods – periods lasting longer, heavier blood flow, appearance of spotting in between periods, irregularity in pattern of the cycle, etc. For those who have heavy flow, doctors prescribe hormone or birth control pills to control the problem. In some cases women experience hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations and feelings of suffocation.
With the falling down of estrogen levels, the vaginal secretions reduce and become less acidic. Sex may become painful due to lack of natural lubrication.
Apart from physical symptoms, a woman may also experience psychological symptoms like depression, mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and memory lapses.
If menopause happens before the age of 35, then it is called premature menopause which occurs due to certain diseases, autoimmune reactions, radiation, surgery, drug therapies and occasionally for reasons that have no medical explanation.
Often, for women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it becomes necessary to surgically remove both the ovaries, leading to surgical menopause. Women who undergo surgical removal of the uterus or hysterectomy also cease to menstruate, but the hormonal functioning of the ovaries will be present until the natural menopause is reached.