Menopause refers to the end of menstural cycles. This is brought about by a natural decline in the reproductive hormones of a person as they age. Menopause is a normal biological phenomenon that characterises aging and not a disease or disorder. Menopause is said to be reached at the point when it has been 12 months after the last period of a menstruator. Leading up to that point, menstruators might experience irregular cycles, moodiness, hot flashes or other symptoms referred to as perimenopause or, more commonly, the menopausal transition.
Menstruators enter postmenopause after menopause. Heart disease and osteoporosis (bones becoming brittle and weak) are more common in postmenopausal women. It is critical to maintain a nutritious diet, stay active, and acquire enough calcium throughout this period for maximum bone health.
The menopausal transition usually occurs between ages 45 to 55. However, this can vary in different individuals and is not an absolute standard. The transition period usually lasts about 7 years but could also stretch longer, even to double the normal time. Lifestyle changes, the age at which it occurs, and race and ethnicity can all influence how long the transition period lasts. The synthesis of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones produced by the ovaries, varies dramatically during perimenopause.
Each individual is affected differently by the menopausal transition. Menstruators may acquire weight more quickly when the fat cells shift, and the body begins to use energy differently. Changes in bone and heart health, body shape and composition, and physical function come under possible body changes during this phase.
Triggers, signs and symptoms
Like the varying physical and emotional changes experienced by menstruating individuals during their periods, the menopausal transition is also felt differently by different individuals. Changes in period is the most prominent sign. It could happen irregularly, the person could experience heavy bleeding or spotting, or periods might even resume after the gap of a year. Changing estrogen levels can cause hot flashes characterised by red blotches, excessive sweating and immediate shivering. A loss of bladder control and trouble in sleeping is also common.
Menopause can have implications on one’s sexual life too. Vaginal dryness, a common symptom of menopause can make the act of sex uncomfortable or painful. The feelings regarding sex can also vary. Some might feel a disinterest towards sexual intercourse whereas others might feel more relaxed due to the lack of the possibility of getting pregnant.
However, since true menopause does not happen until the completion of 12 months after the last period, it is advised to stay on birth control. It is also possible to contract STDs after menopause, so adequate measures need to be taken in that direction as well.
There can also be a difference in body appearance during menopause. The waist could get larger, skin and hair could get thinner and one could also have stiff muscles. Headaches, heart palpitations and memory problems have also been recorded in individuals. There are also emotional symptoms to menopause. Mood changes have been noticed commonly in menstruators during their menopause. Researchers have not been able to pinpoint a reason. However, many of them attribute this to other life changes around this age including growing children, career related stress and so on. A history of depression can also affect emotional responses during menopausal transition.
A hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the ovaries, which generates hormones can also cause menopause. If you have your uterus or ovaries removed and are not taking hormones, you may experience menopause symptoms right away. Deciding to take treatment for these symptoms is a completely personal choice.
Some menstruators might coast through their transition period with little discomfort. Some individuals might need minor changes like carrying a fan or reducing caffeine (as links between caffeine and symptoms like hot flashes have been established). For some, the pain and other symptoms might warrant medical attention. Preventive health measures like maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle are said to go a long way in dealing more effectively with the symptoms.
Stigma surrounding menopause
Due to the lack of proper discourse regarding menopause, it is often treated as an illness. People who go through menopause are often described as barren and lifeless because of patriarchal notions that associate a menstruator’s worth with their ability to give birth, often dismissing the problems faced by people who go through menopause. The changes experienced can also lead to menstruators themselves feeling disappointed or disconnected to their life.
The few discourses we have around menopause are often misguided and inadequate. Even movies that attempt to do so, end up falling prey to a narrative that only serves to further the stigma.
The recent Malayalam movie Star, is perhaps an example of this unfortunate trend where the discussion of menopause only happened in the last scene and the whole movie focused its attention on the ‘supernatural’ explanation to the woman’s ‘strange’ behaviour.
There have been positive changes in spreading awareness regarding menopause. Maansi, the producer of the short film ‘Painful Pride’ which talks about these changes also runs several campaigns that spread awareness about the transitional aspects of menopause. Globally also, there have been important conversations to address the taboo surrounding menstruation and its various stages.
As Michelle Obama rightly pointed out in her conversation about her own experience with menopause, “What a woman’s body is taking her through is important information. It’s an important thing to take up space in a society, because half of us are going through this but we’re living like it’s not happening.”
Featured Illustration: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India