Menopause is a natural process in women’s reproductive system as they reach a certain age, typically during their 40s or 50s. This refers to when women don’t get their period within 12 months after their last period occurred. And during this time onwards, women may experience changes in their bodies such as vaginal discharges, weight gain, and recurring hot flashes.
Though this is an inevitable situation in every woman, the symptoms may still affect one’s quality of life. It includes difficulty in sleeping, fatigue, and emotional health problems. Fortunately, there are different treatments that will help ease the symptoms of menopause such as hormonal therapies and some tweaks in one’s lifestyle.
3 Stages of Menopause in Older Adults
To better understand what menopause is, let us first discuss the 3 stages of menopause:
- Perimenopause - This stage is the time before the onset of the actual menopause. During this stage, hormone levels start to change, and menstrual periods become irregular. You may also begin to experience vaginal dryness and hot flashes.
- Menopause - After the onset of menopause, you won’t get another period for the next 12 months onwards. This is when you finally reach the post-menopausal stage. Additionally, due to menopause, your body will no longer produce certain hormones necessary to regulate the menstrual cycle.
- Post menopause - This is the stage that happens just after your menopause up to the rest of your life. Though this may seem a relief, the downside of this is that you will be more at risk of getting chronic diseases like osteoporosis, rheumatism, and heart disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause in Older Adults
Older women who are entering menopausal transition may experience the following:
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings
- Weight gain/change in metabolism
- Hair thinning
- Breast changes
- Chills or night sweats
Symptoms may vary from woman to woman, though the most evident sign of menopausal transition is irregular periods. During the perimenopausal stage, you may notice shorter and longer cycles that change every now and then. Although this may be big evidence of menopause, it doesn’t mean that you have no chance of getting pregnant. If you’re not sure whether you are pregnant or just skipped a period, you should get a pregnancy test.
Causes of Menopause in Older Adults
Menopause is a naturally occurring process due to the decline of reproductive hormones. The decline usually starts at 30, as your system starts to produce lesser estrogen and progesterone. This decline will continue until your menopausal stage at 40 or 50.
However, in some cases, women may experience menopause earlier for certain reasons:
Oophorectomy refers to the surgery that removes a woman’s ovaries. The ovaries are one of the essential parts of the reproductive system. They are responsible for producing not just the egg cells, but also the reproductive hormones such as progesterone and estrogen.
These hormones function to regulate the menstrual cycle. Removal of these ovaries will trigger menopause earlier than expected, and you’ll experience the symptoms of menopause more severely as your body abruptly adjusts to the hormone changes.
Chemo and radiation therapy
Experts say that undergoing chemotherapy may trigger menopause. This means that you may experience menopausal symptoms shortly after your treatment. Fortunately, this case of hormonal changes is not permanent, thus birth control methods are still an option. Radiation therapy, on the other hand, doesn’t trigger menopause unless it is directed to the ovaries.
Primary ovarian insufficiency
This condition refers to the insufficiency of the ovaries to produce enough progesterone and estrogen, which may trigger premature menopause. Primary ovarian insufficiency is not common among women, and it is due to either genetic factors or autoimmune diseases.
The primary treatment option for this condition is hormone therapy which comes helpful in protecting other parts of the body that may be affected such as the heart, brain, and bones. This may be taken until you reach normal menopausal age.
Treatment for Menopausal Symptoms
Menopause is inevitable, however, there are available treatments used to help ease the symptoms of menopause and bring comfort to menopausal women. Treatments include:
One of the symptoms of menopause is vaginal dryness, which causes discomfort, especially during intercourse. Vaginal estrogen will help relieve vaginal dryness. This is through applying small amounts of estrogen to the vagina in the form of a cream, ring, or tablet. The vaginal walls will then absorb the estrogen relieving dryness and discomfort.
Particularly estrogen therapy is one of the best treatments for the symptoms of menopause specifically hot flashes. Your doctor will set a specific dosage and treatment duration depending on your medical history severity of the symptoms. In some cases, doctors prescribe estrogen along with progestin to get better results.
Though estrogen therapy is a good treatment option, it may also increase the risk of cardiovascular problems and cancer. That’s why doctors always give the smallest dosage and the shortest treatment duration possible. In this case, estrogen therapy may be best to get started during the onset of menopause.
Specifically SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reupate Inhibitors). A low dose of this medicine is considered useful in alleviating hot flashes among menopausal women. This is also a second option for women who are not allowed to take hormone therapy due to certain conditions.
Clonidine medications such as Catapres and Kapvay are originally used for the treatment of high blood pressure and migraine. Fortunately, many studies revealed that this treatment can also be used in easing symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes. A recently published research in Science Direct revealed that Clonidine has a significant effect in decreasing the symptoms of hot flashes among menopausal women.
This is a treatment for seizures that is clinically proven to relieve hot flashes and night sweats. This is a good option for women who can’t undergo estrogen therapy. However, you may experience mild side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, edema, and fatigue.
Osteoporosis treatment and medications
The post-menopausal stage can trigger osteoporosis. This is one of the reasons why women are more susceptible to getting the disease. To prevent this from happening, doctors may prescribe medications such as Bisphosphonates, which help treat and prevent osteoporosis progression. Your doctor may also prescribe vitamin D supplements to help maintain normal bone density.
Menopause is a life-changing experience for older women as it’s the time when changes in the reproductive system occur. These changes may trigger different symptoms like discomfort and mood swings that may or may not affect one’s quality of living depending on the severity of the symptoms.
Though this may be an inevitable event among women, treatments are there to help alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Treatments such as hormone therapy, vaginal estrogen, anti-depressants, and clonidine are just some examples. Take note though, that it’s important to talk to your doctor first to determine the appropriate treatment for you.