Menopause is known to be a natural process of ageing for women. Every woman will have a unique menopause experience, there is no one-size-fits-all for this condition. The duration of menopause can vary for each woman depending on their family and medical history. Some medical procedures can induce menopause and family history has a role to play as well. If the onset of menopause was early for a mother, then the onset of menopause for her daughter will likely be early as well.
Menopause consists of different stages and the last stage, post-menopause will unfortunately be there for life. It is important for women to know how to prevent the adverse effects of post-menopause to prevent serious conditions such as osteoporosis.
Different Stages of Menopause
It is important for women to understand the process their body is going through during the transition of menopause. There are four main stages of menopause.
This is the first stage; it starts with puberty and ends with the first signs of perimenopause. During this stage, women will experience normal menstrual cycles and can become pregnant. Symptoms during this stage are similar to PMS (premenstrual symptoms), breast tenderness, irritability, anxiety, headaches and lower abdominal pains.
Oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations occur during this stage. The average time period for this stage is 4 years but can range from a few months to a few years. Women may experience more intense symptoms during this stage, irregular periods, mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness.
The main indication for this stage is when a woman does not have a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months. The average age of women in this stage is 51. The same symptoms experienced during perimenopause can be experienced during menopause as well.
This stage continues after the menopause and will be there for the rest of a woman’s life. There is a risk of developing health problems during this stage such as osteoporosis, incontinence, urinary tract infections and heart disease. The chances of developing a yeast infection increase with vaginal dryness.
Factors Influencing The Duration of Menopause
Genetics play a role in determining the age of onset of menopause in about 50% of women. If a mother experiences menopause from an early age then it increases the chance of her daughter also experiencing menopause from an early age.
Heavy physical activity is associated with early menopause, while light physical activity is associated with delaying the onset of menopause. Women who smoke can experience menopause earlier than women who do not smoke. A high BMI (body mass index), or in simpler terms, women who are overweight, are associated with a higher menopause onset.
Medical conditions and treatments can induce menopause. Ovaries get damaged during chemotherapy and radiation which decreases oestrogen and progesterone levels and can increase the onset of menopause. Removing the ovaries (hysterectomy) can also increase the onset of menopause.
Some women take hormone replacement therapy for a few years to ease the symptoms of menopause. When some women stop hormone replacement therapy, their symptoms disappear, and for other women, the symptoms reappear again after stopping hormone replacement therapy.
Typical Length of Menopause
Menopause is a point in time when a woman stops having her period. Menopausal transition often starts at the ages 45-55. It will be different for each woman; it usually lasts for about seven years but can sometimes last for up to 14 years. On average menopause can last around 4-5 years. Lifestyle factors such as smoking can influence the duration of menopausal transition.
Can The Duration of Menopause Impact a Woman’s Experience of Menopause?
A woman going through menopause experiences symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, brain fog and insomnia. The longer these symptoms last the more disruptive they will become for a woman living her everyday life.
Menopause can also affect a woman’s emotional and psychological well-being. This can lead to complications such as depression and anxiety. If not properly managed with menopause lasting for an extended period, these emotions can impact the quality of life for women.
Prolonged menopause symptoms can have a negative impact on relationships with a woman’s partner, family, and friends. It is important for a woman’s social circle to understand and support her during this time.
The duration of menopause can influence a woman’s overall health. Hormonal changes during menopause decrease bone density which can lead to osteoporosis and heart-related issues may also increase.
It is important to give women coping strategies who are experiencing a longer menopause. Coping strategies such as exercise, diet modifications and potential hormone replacement therapy. Some women might find it challenging to adjust to the ageing process, other women will embrace the change.
Tips And Strategies For Managing Menopausal Symptoms
- Consult a health care provider, someone who is an expert in women’s health like a gynaecologist. They can provide personal advice and recommend treatment options.
- Consider lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, practising stress-reduction techniques, and quitting smoking.
- Dress in layers so that you can easily remove clothing during a hot flush. Always keep a fan close to you during hot flushes.
- Sip on a cold drink during hot flushes.
- Use lubricants during sex, silicone-based preferably to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. Studies have shown that water-based lubricants can increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection. Speak to your healthcare provider about vaginal oestrogen therapy.
- Maintain a regular sleep cycle to improve the quality of sleep. Create a comfortable sleep environment and reduce caffeine intake during the day.
- Take Vitamin D and calcium supplements to improve bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
- Maintain a healthy heart diet and stay physically active to promote cardiovascular health.
- Seek support, and connect with friends and family. Counselling can be considered if menopausal symptoms are causing emotional distress.
Keep in mind that every woman will have a different menopause experience. What works for one woman will not necessarily work for another.