It used to be called the change of life – now it’s more commonly known by the medical term menopause. Whatever we call it, menopause can have a significant impact on a woman’s health and well being.
Of course menopause is not a medical condition; it’s simply a name given to the time when a woman stops having her menstrual periods. It marks the end of the fertile years in a woman’s life, just as the first period in adolescence marks the beginning.
Nevertheless, the fall in hormone levels, which occurs during the time of the menopause, can cause other changes in a woman’s body – changes which mean occasional discomfort in some women right through to distress and despair in others.
Symptoms experienced include hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations and sleep problems. Mood changes, such as anxiety and depression ,can occur; and many women become irritable, lose concentration easily and have decreased energy levels.
Because of the fall in oestrogen levels, at least 50% of women suffer with vaginal symptoms including dryness, soreness, irritation and discharge; and urinary tract, (i.e., kidney and bladder) problems are also more common.
Female hormones have a role to play in maintaining the strength of bones and keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy; so after the menopause, when those hormone levels fall there is a greater risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Not surprisingly, therefore, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is generally considered the first choice treatment for the symptoms associated with menopause.
HRT comes in a number of forms. It can be taken as a medicine by mouth, rubbed in as a cream or a gel, and applied as a patch. Now more than 2 million Australian women are set to benefit from a new development in hormone replacement patch therapy.
The new patch releases for absorption through the skin, a steady concentration of the two hormones – oestrogen and progestogen – necessary to give the most effective benefit with the least likelihood of side effects. This new patch is very convenient in that it need only be applied twice weekly. More good news is that the combined hormone patch is now available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits list of subsidised prescriptions.
HRT is not for everyone; and there are several non-hormonal measures that can be taken for those annoying symptoms associated with the menopause. As well there are special medicines now available to prevent loss of bone density and maintain a strong cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system. There is also increased interest in natural therapies for helping to prevent menopause symptoms.