Hormone Replacement Therapy Hormones Menopause Hrt

Hormonal changes in women can affect their:

  • fertility
  • mood
  • physical well-being
  • sex drive.

The body’s natural hormonal changes during menopause are perhaps the most significant physical changes in a woman’s life. Levels of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone drop significantly, resulting in varying degrees of menopause symptoms. Menopause treatment offers some relief and helps women who are coping with hormonal changes.

The Stages of Menopause

Menopause occurs when a woman, usually over the age of 45, has no menstrual periods for at least one year. Hormonal changes during menopause do not occur immediately. Instead, levels of estrogen and progesterone change over a matter of years.

During a woman’s reproductive years, the ovaries produce up to 90 percent of the body’s estrogen. The adrenal glands, kidneys and liver also produce small amounts of estrogen. Estrogen production in the ovaries is closely tied to egg production. Each ovary has a limited number of eggs, and as supplies begin to run low, estrogen levels begin to fluctuate, resulting in the stages of menopause.

Early Menopause (Perimenopause)

Early menopause, or perimenopause, is an intermittent stage between regular periods and menopause. During early menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate, causing changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Periods may vary in length, regularity and heaviness. The ovaries still produce intermittent eggs, so it is possible to become pregnant during early menopause.

Early menopause symptoms can include:

  • depression
  • hot flashes (a rush of heat affecting the chest and head)
  • increased body fat around the waist
  • insomnia (often caused by night sweats)
  • irritability
  • loss of libido
  • memory and concentration problems
  • mood swings
  • night sweats
  • painful intercourse
  • urinary incontinence
  • vaginal dryness.

Early menopause may last for two to eight years before progressing into true menopause. Hormonal changes in women are different for each individual, and there is no way to determine exactly when a woman will enter early menopause.

Menopause

A woman enters menopause when she goes twelve months without a menstrual period and there is no medical reason for the change (such as illness or pregnancy). Estrogen levels drop and do not fluctuate as much as they do during early menopause.

Women coping with hormonal changes during menopause may continue to experience similar symptoms to early menopause. On average, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.

Postmenopause

Once a year passes without menstrual periods, a woman is considered postmenopausal. Early menopause symptoms are often alleviated, but the hormonal changes that started during menopause may affect women’s:

  • bone density
  • heart health
  • sexual activity.

Once a woman is postmenopausal, any vaginal bleeding, no matter how minor, should be reported to medical professionals.

Menopause Treatment and Relief

Menopause does not necessarily need to be “treated,” as the condition is the natural end of a woman’s reproductive cycles. Instead, it is more accurate to refer to treatment options as menopausal relief. A number of options are available to alleviate menopause symptoms, including hormone replacement therapy.

Bone Density, Osteoporosis and Menopause

Estrogen plays an important role in maintaining bone density. Hormonal changes during menopause greatly reduce estrogen levels, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, or weakened bones.

Preventing osteoporosis is a high priority for women, who otherwise run the risk of wrist, hip or spine fractures in their postmenopausal life. Regular exercise helps maintain healthy bones, and doctors recommend postmenopausal women eat a diet that provides 1,500 mg of calcium a day (approximately three servings of dairy products). Doctors may also suggest vitamin D supplements, which help the body absorb calcium.

Heart Disease and Menopause

Heart disease rates rise alarmingly in women after menopause, though the medical reasons for this are unclear. Aging and lifestyle also influence heart disease in women. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the best preventative treatments for heart disease.

Hot Flashes and Menopause Relief

Hormonal changes in women cause hot flashes. For many women, hot flashes are one of the most uncomfortable menopause symptoms. Night sweats are hot flashes that occur at night, often resulting in disrupted sleep and insomnia.

Menopause relief for hot flashes includes hormone therapy and antidepressants. In addition, women coping with hormonal changes can try to avoid situations that trigger hot flashes, including:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • hot environments
  • spicy foods and drinks
  • stress.

Some women find it helpful to dress in layers and use fans during hot flashes. Regular exercise may also reduce the occurrence of hot flashes.

Sexual Problems and Menopause Hormones

Women coping with hormonal changes during menopause may experience a drop in sexual desire (libido) or painful intercourse. Some studies suggest a drop in estrogen levels affect libido, while others claim that social expectations and physical discomfort are the main causes of lowered sex drive.

Lowered estrogen levels thin the vaginal walls and reduce vaginal lubrication, both of which can lead to painful intercourse, which in turn affects libido. Possible solutions include the use of artificial lubricants, soaking in a hot bath before intercourse, and extended foreplay to encourage adequate vaginal lubrication.

Urinary Incontinence

For some women, one of the most embarrassing menopause symptoms is urinary incontinence. Not all menopausal women experience incontinence, but some experience slight loss of bladder control when they cough or laugh, causing small amounts of urine to leak.