As we age, our bodies go through a lot of changes. For women, one of the most significant changes is menopause. Menopause is when a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs, and can no longer have children. This transitional period can last several years and brings many physical, mental, and emotional changes.
Let’s take a closer look at menopause and what you can expect during this time so that you can decide if hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is right for you.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural biological process that all women go through as they age. It is the biological transition in a woman’s life when her ovaries stop producing eggs, and she can no longer become pregnant. The average age for menopause is around 50, but it can happen as early as 40 or as late as 60. Once a woman has gone 12 months without having a period, she is considered to be in menopause.
During menopause, the levels of two hormones in a woman’s body — estrogen and progesterone— decrease drastically. This hormonal imbalance can cause various physical and emotional symptoms, which we’ll explore in more detail below.
What Causes Menopause?
There are two main types of menopause: natural and surgical. Natural menopause happens when a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs due to an age-related decline in ovarian function. This transition usually occurs gradually over several years.
Surgical menopause, on the other hand, happens suddenly when a woman has her ovaries removed — either as part of treatment for cancer or another medical condition. This type of menopause usually results in more severe symptoms because it happens so abruptly and causes such a dramatic drop in hormone levels.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause symptoms occur because of the hormonal imbalance that happens during this time. Every woman experiences menopause differently, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. However, there are some common hormonal imbalance symptoms in women commonly associated with menopause.
The most widely talked about symptom is hot flashes — sudden waves of heat that spread over the upper body and face. Hot flashes are often accompanied by sweating and an increased heart rate. They typically last between one and five minutes but can occasionally persist for up to half an hour.
Other common symptoms include sleep disturbances (trouble falling asleep or waking up multiple times during the night), vaginal dryness, mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, and memory problems.
In some cases, women also experience joint pain, muscle aches, weight gain, thinning hair, loss of breast fullness, headaches, dry skin, urinary incontinence, and osteoporosis.
Exploring Hormonal Replacement Therapy
If you’re experiencing any combination of the above symptoms — particularly hot flashes and night sweats — you’re likely going through menopause or perimenopause (the transitional period leading up to menopause). While there’s no way to prevent or reverse menopause, there are ways to manage its symptoms and live a healthy life despite this significant hormonal change. One of the ways you can do this is through hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
HRT involves taking estrogen and progesterone — the two hormones that decline during menopause — to help reduce or eliminate some menopausal symptoms and help you live more comfortably. You have two options when it comes to HRT:
- Synthetic HRT – Also known as conventional HRT, this method uses laboratory-made forms of estrogen and progesterone that are not identical to the progesterone your body naturally produces.
- Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy – BHRT uses hormones that are chemically identical to the ones your body makes. BHRT sources these hormones from plant extracts, which are then compounded into pills, patches, gels, or creams.
HRT can be an effective way to manage menopause symptoms, and women often report the following benefits:
- Reduced frequency and severity of hot flashes and night sweats
- Better sleep
- Increased sex drive
- Weight loss
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Clearer skin
- Stronger nails and hair
- Reduced instances of osteoporosis
It’s important to note that HRT is not suitable for everyone, and some risks are associated with this treatment. Therefore, you should speak with your doctor about whether HRT is a good option.