The natural ageing of the ovaries, with the associated discontinuation of the reproductive and hormonal function, marks the end of a woman's period of fertility.
Menopause is the end of a woman's reproductive life and, more specifically, the cessation of periods that have accompanied her since puberty. It is included within a larger phase called the climacteric stage, which is one of the stages of the female life cycle.
The climacteric stage has a variable onset and duration for each woman, but it usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55. When menopause comes earlier than expected, at around age 40, it is called early menopause and, where the menopause arrives after age 55, this is referred to as a late menopause .
The most common symptoms during the menopause
Although not all women experience them with equal intensity, the hormonal changes that occur before, during and even after the menopause can cause symptoms in the short (hot flushes, headaches, irritability), medium (vaginal and skin atrophy and dryness) and long term (osteoporosis).
Each woman experiences these changes differently. For some women, the changes will be so smooth and progressive that they will go practically unnoticed, while there will be others who tolerate such changes poorly and feel the need to find solutions to help them cope.
What are hot flashes?
Hot flashes are usually defined as a sudden hot feeling in the upper chest, neck and face. They usually last between two and three minutes and are sometimes accompanied by sweating and/or a redness of the skin.
Hot flashes are the most common symptom of the menopause and the perimenopause, the period before and after the menopause. They also affect women who reach the menopause due to medical or surgical interventions, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or the removal of the ovaries.
Hot flashes start when blood vessels near to the skin's surface dilate, causing sweat. Some women also have a fast heart rate or even chills. Sometimes hot flashes appear at night and can make it difficult to sleep.
Tips during the menopause
To cope with symptoms associated with the menopause, such as hot flashes, the following recommendations can be very helpful:
- Quit smoking if you smoke, since tobacco consumption increases the risk of hot flashes.
- Avoid being obese, as obesity is related to increased hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
- Reduce the consumption of alcohol, caffeine and other stimulating drinks. They can make hot flashes more frequent and severe. Drink ample amounts of water. Hydration is very important.
- Look after your diet so that it is healthy, balanced and adapted to your needs; increase the consumption of fruit, vegetables and foods containing calcium, nuts and fibre.
- Avoid hot environments. Consuming hot beverages can also have a beneficial effect on reducing hot flashes.
- Do moderate exercise: walking, swimming, yoga, tai-chi, etc., and exercising with weights helps to keep bones and muscles strong, elastic and prevents the onset of diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular problems.
- Avoid stressful situations and, where this is not possible, try to practice relaxation techniques or meditate.
- Take care of social and family relationships in order to maintain a broad support group.