Menopause Facts That You Didn’t Know About

Menopause is a health condition which affects millions of women in this country. Though the ages can vary for menopause between 40 and 60, the average age is 51. In this country, menopausal symptoms include acute physical symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, mental/emotional manifestations such as depression and anxiety, and increased risk for several long term chronic disease such as Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and heart disease. The condition is caused by a dramatic fluctuation and eventual decline of important female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, though several other hormones are also involved.

There are many important facts about menopause which do not receive as much press coverage as they deserve. The first happens to do with the actual term menopause. Strictly speaking, menopause is one day. It occurs one year to the day after a woman’s last menstrual period. The course of time prior to changes occurring in a woman’s cycle is called pre-menopause. The course of time when changes do begin to occur in a woman’s cycle up to the day of menopause is called perimenopause. The day after the day of menopause, for the rest of the woman’s life, is the time called post-menopausal.

Though a common symptom and very disruptive to a woman’s life, hot flashes are one of the very few symptoms that are actually approved by the FDA to treat as a menopausal symptom. Most other symptoms of menopause are not actually approved as symptoms to treat for menopause by the FDA. The most frequent symptom of menopause is actually disruption of sleep or insomnia. The most common system impacted by the hormonal changes associated with the menopausal years is the urinary tract. Over 70% of women can experience symptoms of urinary frequency, urinary urgency, nighttime urination, urine leakage, or recurrent infections of the urinary tract.

Over 60% of women experience low libido, also known as low sex drive. Over a third of women experience weight gain unrelated to changes in diet or exercise and nearly a third experience significant changes in mood which are improved by correcting hormone imbalances. A recent study has also shown that as many as 1/3 women suffer from oral symptoms of some sort like mouth pain, bleeding gums, dry mouth, or altered taste or breath. Working with thousands of physicians across the world who share expertise in diagnosing and treating hormone imbalances the most common, and somewhat whimsical, one word description of menopausal symptoms is, “droopy.” Skin becomes droopy, thus wrinkles. Mood becomes droopy, thus depression happens. Sex drive drops, thus energy and confidence happens. Estrogen levels drop, thus breasts become saggy and droopy. Progesterone levels drop, thus hair can fall out. Tissues of the urinary tract become droopy, thus urinary symptoms occur. Bone density levels drop, insulin sensitivity levels drop, blood vessel elasticity drops, memory levels drop…and thus ironically raise the risk factors for several long term illnesses.

An excellent example of how the hormones estrogen and progesterone interact with the female body is the point of how decreases in these hormones effects the elasticity of the entire body. With less of these hormones floating around in the bloodstream to increase the body’s elasticity everything become LESS elastic, similar to how a rubber band becomes less stretchy with time. Skin sags, breasts sag, blood vessels become less efficient transporting precious blood, and vaginal tissues become dry. In fact, nearly ever tissue in the entire just becomes less youthful.

A simple, elegant example of how hormones can reverse the changes of aging can be seen by looking at studies using Estriol (a weak form of estrogen) and progesterone for skin wrinkles. Using a microscope, we can watch that using Estriol and progesterone on skin tissue can dramatically increase the amount of elastin the skin produces. The end result is that skin loses the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles associated with aging.

An additional lesser known fact about menopause is that several studies have shown that women in different cultures may experience menopause very differently and the reasons for these differences are still a mystery. For instance, women in Japan experience very few menopausal symptoms while women in the USA report multiple symptoms spread out over multiple years.

In addition to the negative impact menopause can have on a woman’s health, the condition can be frustrating in other ways for patients. Medical practitioners can vary greatly on how they interpret studies regarding menopause, how laboratory tests are used in diagnosing the severity or progression of the condition, and how menopause and each of its many symptoms should be treated. Some medical practitioners treat the condition as a whole, while others prefer to treat each symptom independently. Confusion for patients can increase dramatically when stories are compared and two women suffering the same symptoms are approached very differently by two separate practitioners. As with so many other medical conditions, there is often more than one way to reach the same clinical benefit. The most important thing is for each patient to form a strong therapeutic relationship with a practitioner she trusts.

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