Are you ready for menopause? Or do you dread these natural changes, with their sometimes dramatic ups and downs? Menopause, and the years leading up to it (a period known as perimenopause), can be a really trying time for women. Not only is the body gradually losing the hormones it’s had for years, it’s also entering a phase where childbearing is no longer possible. This marks a true shift in a woman’s life. This shift can bring on a number of physical, mental, and emotional changes — some of which are downright challenging. Take a look at what to expect from the many effects of menopause on the body and mood.
How declining estrogen and progesterone impact the reproductive system
Estrogen and progesterone are the two primary reproductive hormones for women. Produced in the ovaries, these two hormones begin their decline in the years leading up to menopause. This natural decline typically happens in the 40s and 50s. All women are different, and some will notice changes much earlier than others.
During this time, ovaries will continue to ovulate, but it may be irregular. This results in irregular menstrual cycles. One month you’ll have a period as usual, and the next, you may skip it altogether. Or you may notice that your cycle is longer or shorter than it used to be. The changes are more permanent once you finally reach menopause. You’ll know you’re there once you’ve gone without a period for a consecutive twelve months. At this point, your body no longer releases eggs, so you’ll no longer be able to become pregnant.
Other symptoms of this drop in female hormones include:
Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy
Because you’re no longer ovulating, you may notice you don’t have that mucus-like vaginal discharge during ovulation. You may also notice that your vagina is drier than it once was. Vaginal dryness normal and can be remedied with over-the-counter lubricants or treatments such as MonaLisa Touch.
You’ll likely notice a drop in your libido. This is also normal. Your OBGYN can help you come up with ways to increase your libido, which may include approaches such as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
How declining estrogen and progesterone impact the endocrine system
Your endocrine system is the system in charge of hormones — including estrogen and progesterone. Your endocrine system is changing during menopause, and you’ll likely experience symptoms such as:
Ah, the dreaded hot flash! It’s a very real thing that most women experience to varying degrees. Some hot flashes will be severe, while others will be mild. They may last for mere moments or quite a few minutes. Your upper body will likely feel very hot and you may sweat. Hot flashes often occur during the middle of the night; some women wake up to bed sheets drenched in sweat. Managing hot flashes takes time, attention, and certain lifestyle changes. Many women find relief from cutting back on caffeine and alcohol. Others find relief in yoga and mindfulness meditation. All women can benefit from adequate hydration and a nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet.
Weight gain is also a common side effect of the changes taking place within the endocrine system. Your body tends to burn fewer calories during this time as it reserves its energy. It also holds onto fat, especially around the belly. You’ll need to pay extra attention to what you’re eating and the exercise you’re doing. Cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates to ward off weight gain, and do regular cardio workouts to combat belly fat.
Effects of menopause on the excretory system
One of the common effects of menopause has to do with urination. Incontinence is characteristic of aging, and it typically begins around the time of menopause. You may find you go to the bathroom much more often, and sometimes in the middle of the night, which can further disrupt sleep.
How menopause impacts your skeletal system
Bone loss is yet another outcome of these menopausal years. Osteoporosis becomes more prevalent, as do bone fractures. A study published in the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions further explains how menopause impacts muscle mass and strength. You’ll want to take extra care of your joints, muscles, and bones. Strengthen these areas with regular weight-bearing exercise and eat to build bone density.
How menopause affects your heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. Studies suggest that estrogen helps protect the heart from the inflammatory effects of atherosclerosis. With the decrease in estrogen during menopause comes an increased risk of heart disease. This means you need to take extra preventative measures in terms of eating an anti-inflammatory diet and exercising to boost cardiovascular health.
Effects of menopause on your nervous system
The nervous system is where the infamous mood swings come into play. One minute you feel as if you’re on top of the world. The next moment, you’re annoyed by everything! All of these mood swings can impact your relationships and quality of life. Some of the most typical emotions experienced during this time are:
- Memory issues
Think about how anxious, irritable, and down in the dumps you sometimes feel after you’ve been sleep deprived. Your hormones need a good night’s sleep to remain balanced. When they decline during menopause, truly restorative sleep can seem elusive. This impacts the nervous system to a large degree.
Talk to your OBGYN about ways to boost your mood. Because menopause can trigger serious depression, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are sometimes necessary for some women. Hormone replacement therapy is yet another option for many women. Talk to your doctor about treatment options available.
Fluctuating hormones and the many challenging effects of menopause can be a tricky thing to navigate. At OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we can help you understand menopause, hormone imbalances, and the range of treatment options available. Contact us to request an appointment today.