By JESSIE NGOMA – SIMENGWA –
MOST women dread the thought of reaching menopause as they feel frustrated by the changes that take place in their bodies and affect their journey in life.
Like menstruation, a somewhat fearsome condition that women fail to manage and understand is the process of menopause, which every woman undergoes and may come with its own challenges.
However, a lifestyle modification for women could help ease some symptoms that come with aging.
Women are beautiful beings who have the ability to give life and nurture it, though the natural make-up of their bodies may at some point pose health challenges.
There are unavoidable changes that should compel every woman to understand their bodies.
A medical practitioner based in Ndola, on the Copperbelt, says lifestyle changes provide immense benefits for women presenting with symptoms of menopause.
Sebastian Chinkoyo, a consultant obstetrician-cum-gynaecologist at Ndola Teaching Hospital, describes menopause as a condition marked by the natural absence of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months.
Dr Chinkoyo, in an interview, said menopause is a natural biological process undergone by every woman when the function of ovaries ceases.
As they age, women could experience a decrease in estrogen, the hormone involved in releasing an egg every month, thereby leading to one not menstruating.
“This occurs when the body gradually stops producing estrogen and is a normal phase of aging which happens to a woman over the age of 40 years.
“A woman is born with finite number of eggs. These follicles naturally reduce in number by the time she reaches puberty,” Dr Chinkoyo said.
Research shows that follicles are a scientific basis for ovulation that occur monthly for most women between puberty and menopause.
Dr Chinkoyo said globally, 51 years was the average age a woman would reach menopause.
He, however, said most women reach menopause between 45 and 55 years.
“It is important to note that once menopause has set in, it is unlikely to be reversed.”
This phase, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive period, occurs in both women who have never conceived and those who have children.
Dr Chinkoyo noted that in some cases, women did not reach menopause until their 60s, while others experience menopausal symptoms before they reach 40.
The latter occurrence is premature menopause resulting from premature ovarian failure.
According to Dr Chinkoyo, the natural cause of premature menopause was not known, though in a few cases, the condition was genetic, and gave an example of Turner’s Syndrome where premature ovarian failure happens. This is when ovaries stop producing eggs and a woman stops menstruating.
Some women under-go menopause at varying stages of their lives, sometimes at similar times as their mothers, or stemming from family history which may come prematurely, or at the right stage of aging.
Premature menopause could also come as a result of some women under-going either surgical or medical treatment.
Surgical treatment may see a woman’s uterus removed for some reasons which could either be cancer or infections of the pelvis that may affect the ovaries.
For example, both the ovaries and fallopian tubes may get damaged by infection, leading to chronic pelvic pain that may necessitate surgical removal.
“The age at which a woman starts having menstrual periods is not related to the age of menopause onset,” Dr Chinkoyo said.
There is no single blood test that reliably predicts when a woman is going through the menopausal transition. The only way to diagnose menopause is to observe the lack of menstrual periods for 12 months in a woman in the expected age range.
The process of menopause does not occur overnight, but rather is a gradual process.
Symptoms of menopause vary in women, with Dr Chinkoyo pointing out that the period of perimenopause may take 10 years for some women and one to two years for others.
It is important to note that symptoms occur both before and after menopause.
Peri-menopause refers to the years around menopause, when ovaries produce less estrogen.
During this period the hormonal levels fluctuate and sometimes cause irregular vaginal bleeding.
Other symptoms of menopause include disturbing hot flushes, a feeling of unusual warmth or hotness that spreads mostly over the upper body, and lasts for a few minutes.
Vaginal symptoms occur because the tissues lining the vagina become thinner, drier, and less elastic as estrogen levels fall. “The urinary tract is not spared by declining estrogen levels which cause changes similar to those in the vagina,” notes Dr Chinkoyo.
This can lead to an increased risk of urinary tract infection, feeling the need to urinate more frequently, or leakage of urine during straining when coughing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects.
Changes in sexual behaviour and activity are common such as loss of sexual desire or arousal and pain during sex due to vaginal dryness.
Dr Chinkoyo explained how female sexual dysfunction during the menopausal transition can lead to marital disharmony.
Other short-term consequences of menopause are psychological symptoms which include depressed mood, anxiety, irritability and mood swings.
The loss of estrogen that protects women puts them at risk of long-term medical problems like osteoporosis, a condition that results in the loss of bone density.
“With lack of protective estrogen, the risk of other medical conditions such as stroke and heart disease may increase,” Dr Chinkoyo said.
In this regard, women who reach menopause before the age of 40 could benefit from treatment to replace the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
To aid in relief from symptoms of menopause, different forms of medication containing estrogen and progesterone are available as pills and transdermal skin patches.
Transdermal patches are medicated adhesives placed on the skin to deliver a specific dose of medication through the skin and into the blood stream.
Hormone replacement treatment is not without risks. If taken longer than 10 years, it could expose a woman to the risk of having conditions such as breast cancer.
Research also shows that taking supplements of estrogen may not be an option for some women depending on their health and family history.
The better option would be to turn to natural remedies such as soy products, which Dr Chinkoyo encouraged women to take.
This is a diet containing isoflavones, a class of phytoestrogens found naturally in soy that act like estrogen in the body.
In Zambia, soyabeans is now grown widely, and soy products are readily available and cheap on the market.
Dr Chinkoyo said women under the age of 40 who stop menstruating should seek medical advice to determine whether one was either undergoing premature menopause or had other health conditions.
With the available health-care services and health information, women can be assured of experiencing a meaningful aging process.
Instead of being driven by the fear of menopause, women should adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Women should be encouraged to take plenty of regular exercise in addition to having a well-balanced diet, rich in isoflavones, and to avoid smoking.
Research data suggest that women who are more active tend to suffer less from the symptoms of the menopause. A reduction of alcohol and caffeine intake can reduce the severity and frequency of hot flushes.
Source: Times of Zambia