It is a rite of passage that every woman must undergo — menopause. Call it transitioning from one stage of life to another, getting older, or the beginning of the second half of your lives, but every woman will get there at some point.
How you get through it is another matter entirely.
“One has to accept menopause as a natural change in a woman’s life,” says gynaecologist Dr Shirley Jhagroo. The average lifespan for women has now increased, so women can expect to live past the age of 75. If you go through menopause at 50, you’re spending a third of your life in menopause. So you have to accept it.”
Accepting the idea of menopause can be difficult for some women who often view it with dread and loathing. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown or it may be a woman’s own preconceived notions about that phase of her life.
In the past, the subject of menopause wasn’t often discussed by women in Barbados; one typically heard “they’re going through the change.”
But what exactly is this change?
Menopause is when a woman’s monthly menstrual periods come to an end.
After you’ve gone one full year without a period, marking the end of your reproductive life, that’s when you’re really in the throes of menopause.
However menopause typically happens in stages.
(1) Perimenopause typically begins several years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last one to two years of perimenopause, the decrease in estrogen accelerates.
(2) Menopause is the point when it’s been a year since a woman has her last menstrual period. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen.
(3) Post-menopause are the years after menopause. During this stage, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes ease for most women. However, health risks related to the loss of estrogen increase as a woman ages.
Most women, whether joking or serious, will often talk about the hot flashes they experience.
A hot flash – sometimes called a hot flush – is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating.
“The symptoms of menopause are usually transient,” says Dr Jhagroo.
“Not every woman will have the same symptoms or the severity of symptoms.”
Dr Jhagroo was quick to add that unlike those in previous years, today’s women were educating themselves, asking questions of their doctors and looking for alleviation of some of the symptoms.
“Women are reading a lot more and they know how to manage it,” she said.
A key to managing the symptoms is monitoring what you eat.
“It’s important for women to stay away from products with caffeine because caffeine tends to make hot flashes more severe,” Dr Jhagroo says.
The same goes for cigarettes. But you can use a progesterone cream which can help ease hot flashes.”
Menopause also brings about its own emotional changes due in part to declining estrogen levels. Women can sometimes feel a mix of sadness, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, mood changes, aggressiveness and tension. But Jhagroo feels that a woman’s journey through menopause depends on her approach to it.
According to Jhagroo, that means doing exercises to help improve circulation to the brain to boost memory, and getting a good night’s rest because undisturbed rest is crucial.
“Women shouldn’t look at menopause in a bad way,” she said.
“Sex can be just as enjoyable. This is the time to look after ourselves because the children are grown up and you are now living life for you.
“It’s a natural event so why are you going to fight it, because you’ll lose. So make the best of it.”