Menopause happens when periods stop for good. Most women will have a reproductive life that will start around the age of 12 and end around the age of 50, this means that for most women periods will stop appearing at this time of their life. When they cease before though, around the age of 40 or even before that, it becomes an alarming situation called Early Menopause, which requires a doctor consultation. When pregnancy is ruled out of the picture, the one clinical condition that is present is Premature Menopause. This situation is expressed in many ways, apart from the absence of menstruation itself, Premature Menopause will come along with all the other signs and symptoms of regular menopause, these include a wide range of physical and psychological manifestations that are all unpleasant.
The main reason every woman needs to go see a doctor when her regular cycles stop is that apart from pregnancy, the stop of menstruation also means the stop of a series of natural physiological processes that regulate a woman’s body. This includes for example a hormone called estrogen. A hormone is a substance released by different organs in our body called glands. Glands secrete hormones in order to control several sequences that occur normally every day, or every month. Hormones are also in charge of our metabolism, which is the rate at which we use the energy provided by the food we eat, and many other functions of our system.
One of the functions hormones regulate is the maintenance of the inside of the walls of our vessel. Blood vessels are covered by a very thin layer called epithelium. The epithelium is protected from all the substances contained in our blood by the action of estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone secreted by the ovaries, and when they stop working, they stop producing estrogen, that stops protecting our blood vessels. This explains why women over the age of 50 have a greater risk of suffering cardiovascular diseases including coronary heart disease, which is another way of saying risk of having a heart attack.
If this risk is increased by natural menopause by the age of 50, the risk is even higher when this happens earlier in life, because the vessels spend a longer amount of time unprotected and vulnerable to all of the different contents of our blood, including cholesterol molecules and other free radicals that damage the tissues in our system. This is only one of the many detrimental situations that can start forming once menstruation stops. And this is why it’s so important to consult a doctor first and also to be able to identify the signs and symptoms that your body is telling you. Because if something is wrong, discomfort or pain are the only way our body has for communication with our mind.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of premature menopause (as well as those of regular menopause) are most times progressive over the course of several menstrual cycles and may include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles, usually more distanced than normal;
- Vaginal dryness
- The very well known hot flashes
- Emotional changes, including irritability and mood swigns
- Changes in bladder habits, or loss in bladder control.
- and Decreased libido.
Other signs and symptoms to be alert for are:
- Breast pain not related to a menstrual cycle
- Dry skin, mount or eyes
- Weight changes not related to a special diet or exercise regime.
All or any of these symptoms must make you aware that there is something wrong with your body and so lead you to consulting with a physician, who will guide you to a diagnosis and a plan to get back on track afterwards.
When premature menopause happens too early in life, the psychological impact that is carries along might be sometimes even greater than the physical risks it represents. So, in these cases, apart from the lifestyle changes that are necessary, psychological support in also required.
Although there is no pharmaceutical straight forward cure for premature menopause, there are many ways the symptoms and risks can be managed, or even prevented. Lifestyle changes are fundamental, they begin with a diet high in fiber and protein, and low in carbohydrates that must be eaten in the morning and lunch hours and must be whole grain such as oatmeal and sweet potatoes or whole grain rice. Fruits and vegetables must be included on the menu every single day. Increasing or establishing a regular exercise pattern is also important for cardiovascular health and weight management. Sleep habits must be structured and stress levels must be kept minimal. All of these changes must be accompanied by regular yearly visits to your gynecologist or general physician.