WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?
The word “Menopause” refers to the last or final menstrual period a woman experiences. Sometimes called “the change of life”, menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life. Her ovarian follicles or eggs are no longer released by the ovaries and the production of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, reduces or ceases.
In Australia, the average age of menopause is 52. However, menopause can occur in women aged 40 to 60 years, and in some cases, much earlier than age 40 for example. Menopause can occur naturally, prematurely or sometimes the female period ceases unexpectedly due to primary ovarian insufficiency. Menopause can also be induced early through surgery or medical treatment for cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer.
Induced menopause is a topic gaining considerable public attention due the recent statements made by Angelina Jolie, who is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation increasing her likelihood of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Jolie chose to undergo preventative cancer surgery with a double mastectomy in 2013 to dramatically reduce her risks of developing breast cancer and very recently in 2015, a bilateral oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries) to eliminate her risk of ovarian cancer.
“It is not easy to make these decisions,” Jolie wrote about her most recent surgery. “But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.”
Hormones are chemicals made in your body, which send out messages through the blood stream. They help control many body functions such as repair of cells, reproduction, sexual function, digestion and temperature. The hormones of particular relevance at menopause are oestrogen and progesterone. The symptoms of menopause are created by changes in the levels of these hormones. The changes in oestrogen and progesterone usually happen over months or years as you approach menopause. If menopause is induced by surgery or cancer treatment, there can be a sudden drop in all of these hormones, causing symptoms to be more severe.
The decrease in female hormones, particularly oestrogen, can result in numerous symptoms of menopause, which can be physical and/or emotional. Menopause Symptoms generally include hot flushes, vaginal changes, sleep disturbance, mood swings and loss of libido. There are other physical and emotional symptoms such as aches and pains, crawling or itchy skin, sore breasts, irritability, but no one woman will experience menopause in the same way. Culture, health, previous experience of mood problems, lifestyle and whether you have had a natural, surgical or chemotherapy induced menopause will all impact on menopausal symptoms.*