As promised, a period-related post before I head off on my trip! This is a slightly unhappy moment for us flow-lovers, but very liberating in various ways for women and men. The process of menopause is an extremely complex transition in a woman’s life, so I’m just going to skim over some very basic information about menopause to hopefully help men understand it. I have mixed feelings of menopause and perhaps because my love of menstruation may affect may outlook on it – but perhaps “all good things must come to an end.” While I will surely miss the idea of my wife/significant other no longer having her period down the road, it may also be a very beneficial thing. I think it’d be very contradictory for me to say that I love the menstrual cycle but against menopause as it is all intertwined seamlessly in the progression of life.
Hopefully now that you know what menstruation is, we can start talking about the permanent end of menstruation, menopause. It needs to be understood that menopause is a natural transition as a result of aging in females and is not a disease, disorder or something that needs to be “treated”. Menopause, the cessation of monthly menstrual periods occur between the ages of 40-50 or as late as 60’s. Medically speaking, menopause is declared when a woman who has an intact uterus, is not pregnant and not lactating, when her period is absent (amenorrhea) for one full year. It is important to note that the date of menopause is back-dated one year when there is no sign of flow, as minuscule as it may be.
While most menopause occur naturally through the aging process, it can also be “forced” to occur – such as the case of surgical menopause where a woman’s ovaries are removed. It is possible to undergo a hysterectomy, the removal of uterus, and not be considered in a state of surgical menopause as long as the ovaries exist, regardless of the fact one will not menstruate. Menopause which occur through aging are often associated with many signs and effects leading up to her post-menopausal life which we will look at later.
The significance of menopause is that while marking the end of monthly menses, it also signifies the end of female fertility, where one is no longer capable of child-bearing. Menopause is an effect resulting in changes to hormonal levels, where estradiol and progesterone production by the ovaries decrease sharply with age. As a woman approaches menopause or perimenopause, the production of hormones become irregular, often leading to unpredictable periods or bleeding. In this time until menses completely ceases, she is still considered to be fertile.
Menopause may also occur at a young age, from puberty all the way to one’s 40’s which is considered premature menopause, as a result of Premature Ovarian Failure, or POF – and where this occurrence is not considered as part of the normal aging process. There is no definitive reason of why POF occurs, although some have been identified such as:
• Autoimmune disorder
• The end of a treatment for cancer with radiation or chemotherapy
• Hysterectomy with both ovaries removed
• Thyroid dysfunction
• Turner syndrome
• Viral infection
• Inadequate gondaotropin secretion or action
• Eating Disorders
Menopause is often seen as a “bad” thing as a result of large hormonal fluctuations, resulting in side-effects and other discomforts. These effects may happen as early as 30’s where a woman is reaching closer towards menopause, but does not usually become highly apparent until her 40’s. Symptoms of menopause may last from a few years or well into 10 years where one stops feeling the effects of menopause. The length and severity of menopausal discomforts cannot be predicted and just like the menstrual cycle, varies from one woman to another.
The following is a quote of some, but certainly not an exhaustive list of menopausal indicators:
1. Hot flashes, flushes, night sweats and/or cold flashes, clammy feeling
2. Irregular heart beat
4. Mood swings, sudden tears
5. Trouble sleeping through the night (with or without night sweats)
6. Irregular periods; shorter, lighter periods; heavier periods, flooding; phantom periods, shorter cycles, longer cycles
7. Loss of libido
8. Dry vagina
9. Crashing fatigue
10. Anxiety, feeling ill at ease
11. Feelings of dread, apprehension, doom
12. Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, mental confusion
13. Disturbing memory lapses
14. Incontinence, especially upon sneezing, laughing; urge incontinence
15. Itchy, crawly skin
16. Aching, sore joints, muscles and tendons
17. Increased tension in muscles
18. Breast tenderness
19. Headache change: increase or decrease
20. Gastrointestinal distress, indigestion, flatulence, gas pain, nausea
21. Sudden bouts of bloat
23. Exacerbation of existing conditions
24. Increase in allergies
25. Weight gain
26. Hair loss or thinning, head, pubic, or whole body; increase in facial hair
27. Dizziness, light-headedness, episodes of loss of balance
28. Changes in body odor
29. Electric shock sensation under the skin and in the head
30. Tingling in the extremities
31. Gum problems, increased bleeding
32. Burning tongue, burning roof of mouth, bad taste in mouth, change in breath odor
33. Osteoporosis (after several years)
34. Changes in fingernails: softer, crack or break easier
While some of these effects are a result of decrease estrogen levels, the rapid fluctuations in hormones trigger the more well-known signs of menopause, hot flashes, where one’s body temperature soars upwards and peaking-out. It is a common misconception that the feeling of such a hot-flash is related to the spike in body temperature but in reality, is actually the result of the body not returning to normal-bodily temperatures. While this is a very uncomfortable feeling, hot flashes do not pose any physical harm. Hot flashes may however, make one feel sweaty or weak. Menopausal discomforts can be tackled by prescription medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) for anti-depressive uses or Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to deal with discomfort associated with diminished circulating estrogen and progesterone hormones.
Some might have noted that menopause can be liberating for women and men and may wonder why. For women, it is quite obvious for those who have had to deal with years of having monthly menstrual cycles that they don’t have to worry about having plans interrupted by their period and having to keep feminine hygiene products handy around the house/purse. The liberating part for men is that post-menopausal, they no longer have to fear their wife’s PMS (if it existed). Furthermore, it is liberating for those who are still sexually active to no longer have to worry about the risk of pregnancy. For fear of unwanted pregnancies, many couples may choose to use birth control and/or condoms during their fertile year, and can now enjoy the feeling of internal ejaculation and an enhanced sex-life. Menopause might be the end of fertility, but is also the beginning of a new lifestyle.
It is important for both men and women to understand menopause, just as much as I believe everyone should understand menstruation and the menstrual cycle, particularly for women who will (without unfortunate premature death) go through it. Education about menopause will not change the reality and discomforts arising from it, but will help women feel comfortable and better-prepared for the process to occur. Menopause is often met with great fear and unknown as most women are not informed about the cessation of menses in a structured manner. Like menstruation, menopause is even a greater taboo subject where there is little discussion and open-dialogue to help women understand what to expect during their perimenopausal and post-menopausal years.
Once symptoms of menopause begin to appear more noticeably, it is always a good idea to see or suggest your significant other to see, a medical professional so that knowledge about what to expect can be acquired. Since menopause is a natural female reproductive occurrence, medical treatment for it is not required. However, menopause can result in many discomforts and psychological problems such as depression which should be treated with due care. There are many options available to mitigate severe symptoms, both through natural and medicinal methods. A medical professional would be your best resource for finding what is the most practical and comfortable method to transition through such a beautiful part of life.
Menopause can be both an exciting and an unexciting time in a woman’s or male-partner’s life as it closes a window, but opens a door. What you decide to make of it is what matters most.