If you’re a woman, menopause is one of those things you just can’t avoid. Sooner or later – generally around age 50 – your body will start to morph from potential baby producer to the next stage of life where more babies are not part of the picture. In some ways that may be a relief since you can stop dealing with monthly periods or worrying about unwanted pregnancy. But menopause brings a number of new concerns.
For most women, menopause happens gradually as the ovaries cease estrogen production. Estrogen is a hormone that plays a key role in reproduction health but also supports vaginal health, bone health, cognition and other vital bodily functions. (Women’s bodies also produce lesser amounts of testosterone, which also slows with age.) Menopause can also occur suddenly, for example in patients who have had certain breast cancer treatments or who have had their ovaries removed.
It’s the change of life, not the end of life!
The menopause process can start as early as your late 30s. This is called perimenopause, and you may experience symptoms such as:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Hot flashes (daytime or at night)
- Increasing PMS symptoms such as irritability
The menopause process is considered complete once you have not had a period for 12 months. Meanwhile, symptoms will continue to unfold. They may come and go at first, as estrogen levels fluctuate rather than decreasing consistently. There are many possible symptoms, although which ones will affect you and to what extent can vary considerably. The most common are:
- Mood swings. Menopause can be a stressful time, and fluctuating hormone-based mood changes can exacerbate that. Stress negatively affects your health in many ways. Among other things, it can trigger excessive production of cortisol (the “stress hormone”), leasing to increased blood pressure and heart rate and inflammation in the joints and pelvic region. In addition to mood swings and stress, you may experience anxiety or depression.
- Reduced sex drive. Libido, or sex drive, is your desire to engage in intimate relations. Even during perimenopause, you may start to feel less like yourself sexually. As menopause symptoms develop, some women become self-conscious, further reducing their interest in pursuing sexual activity. This can be especially frustrating for you and your partner.
- Vaginal dryness. Estrogen supports vaginal health by keeping tissues firm and hydrated and by keeping the vaginal canal lubricated. Estrogen loss often leads to multiple symptoms, including itching or burning in the vaginal area, tightening of the vaginal canal and discomfort or pain during intercourse.
- Urinary issues. Reduced vaginal health can also lead to stress incontinence (minor leakage when you laugh, cough or sneeze), more frequent urinary tract or bladder infections and more frequent or urgent need to urinate.
Treatment Is Available
Disconcerting and uncomfortable as menopause can be, you can still function well and feel like younger self physically and emotionally simply by getting treatment. Several options are available to help alleviate or even eliminate unwanted symptoms and put you back in control of your days and back in the mood for intimacy.
- Hormone replacement therapy can correct imbalance in testosterone and thyroid levels as well as estrogen. However, many women don’t want this treatment because it can cause other dangerous health problems. Vaginal-specific estrogen therapy is safer but still not an option for every woman.
- Acupuncture or meditation can help with pain and stress in some patients.
- Over-the-counter herbal supplements may help with hot flashes, but most have not been clinically proven.
Increasingly, women are turning to MonaLisa Touch, a safe, effective laser treatment that works to restore vaginal health rather than simply reduce symptoms. By triggering the body’s natural renewal of healthy skin cells and blood flow, MonaLisa Touch treatment can reverse problems related to vaginal dryness as well as urinary issues. Menopause can take its course, but you can still feel comfortable and self-confident.