What is menopause?
Menopause is not a pathological condition, but a vital part of the female reproductive/maturation cycle. It is the permanent cessation of menses for a period of at least 12 months as a result of an oestrogen deficiency that is not of pathological origin. Oestrogen is a female reproductive hormone that surges during puberty and then declines as one approaches menopause. The average age for a person to go through menopause is 51 years of age.1 However, menopause can occur as early as 40-45 years of age or even as late as 50-53.
As women grow older, the number of ovarian follicles decreases in number, affecting the production of oestrogen and inhibin, which are the major hormones that regulate the production of oestrogen from the gonadotropins. This results in the increase of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH), the production of which is inversely related to the production of oestrogen. When this happens, there is not enough oestrogen to cause endometrial development, causing irregular menstruation until it ceases finally. This cessation is the onset of menopause and the post-menopausal stage of life in women.
There are a wide variety of menopause symptoms experienced by women. Some common ones include:
- Urogenital symptoms: The mucosal layer of the vagina begins to atrophy due to decreased oestrogen levels. This makes the vagina become thinner and drier, resulting in the vaginal mucosa losing its elasticity and becoming very fragile. This can lead to loss of libido and painful intercourse. Other symptoms as a result of urethral atrophy are incontinence and urgent, frequent, and painful urination.
- Bone symptoms: There is a balance between bone reabsorption and bone production processes. During menopause, there is a loss in this balance which causes more bone to be reabsorbed than produced. This leads to the loss of bone mass.
- Arterial symptoms: Oestrogen deficiency causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels and an accelerated influx of low-density lipoprotein. This can result in hyperlipidemia and other symptoms of cardiovascular diseases like strokes or hypertension.
- Vasomotor symptoms: About 75% of women experience vasomotor symptoms.1 These symptoms include hot flashes, palpitations, migraines, and night sweats.
- Psychogenic Symptoms: About 45% of women experience psychogenic symptoms.1 These include irritability, depression, lack of sleep, anxiety, low self-esteem, and loss of concentration.
Weight fluctuations during menopause
Hormonal changes often lead to weight gain
As your body goes through menopause, your chances of gaining weight increase as a result of the hormonal changes occurring in your body. The North American Menopause Society reported that women gained, on average, two kilograms over the menopause transition period.1
Age-related loss of muscle mass
Atrophy during menopause is not restricted to only the vagina. As you age, your muscles begin to lose their mass. This, alongside the increased chances of gaining weight, may cause your weight to fluctuate while your body goes through menopause.
Modifiable lifestyle factors help manage weight changes during menopause
Even though menopause is a physiological condition and not a disease, some symptoms of menopause can increase your chances of developing some serious conditions, such as osteoporosis, bone fractures and cardiovascular diseases.1
It’s essential to change your lifestyle when managing menopausal and postmenopausal symptoms. Some modifications you can make are:
- Giving up smoking
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Making sure you are eating a balanced, healthy diet
- Exercising for at least half an hour a day
Menopause is a condition that affects the vast majority of women. There are many symptoms of menopause that can have a noticeable effect on a person, such as the average two-kilogram weight gain, as a result of hormone changes.
During the menopausal stage, a woman might experience a lot of physiological changes, such as variations in the menstrual cycle, and vasomotor symptoms such as night sweats, palpitations, and hot flashes. She may also experience psychogenic symptoms, such as depression, irritability, mood changes, and anxiety. In addition, the post-menopausal stage can then cause various different physical symptoms, such as cardiovascular problems, like blood vessel constriction, and urogenital symptoms, such as the loss of vaginal muscles, the loss of vaginal elasticity, and vaginal dryness. There can also be a loss of bone mass, as a result of the imbalance between bone production and bone reabsorption.
To help your body cope with these frequent and sometimes distressing symptoms, lifestyle modifications such as exercising, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, and eating a balanced diet can be useful and effective.
- Peacock K, Ketvertis KM. Menopause. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 25]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507826/