The thought of never having another monthly period in your life may sound appealing. But the years around menopause can be a time of emotional and physical upheaval. It can be likened to discovering a new body, much like a young girl does at puberty, says Dr Munjaal Kapadia, gynaecologist and director at Namaha Healthcare in Mumbai. “It is an important transition in a woman’s life; one that the family needs to be sensitive,” he adds.
The term menopause signals the time in a woman's life when menstruation ceases; i.e After she has not had a period for 12 months in a row. The symptoms of menopause though, appear in phases. “It may start during the years before, reach a peak at menopause and then gradually taper off after,” he explains. We chat more to understand and debunk some common myths surrounding this phase of womanhood.
01. Menopause always begins at age 50
Depending on your nationality, ethnicity and individual medical conditions, the menopausal age can vary from 44 to 55 years. The most common age for Indian women is between 47 to 52 years.
Often, menopausal age follows familial patterns. For instance, if your mum went through menopause early, you’re likely to do so too, says Dr Munjaal. A few years before or after the average age is normal, but consult a gynaecologist if you’re going through premature menopause (late 30s – early 40s) or if you’re still getting your periods way beyond 55.
02. You will experience hot flashes and poor sleep
While it isn’t true for every woman, these symptoms are common enough for people to assign it to menopause. Hormonal changes can trigger low moods, irritability and increase emotional sensitivity, which in turn can affect sleep patterns, explains Dr Munjaal.
Lifestyle changes (like exercising, meditation and a low-spice diet) can help better cope with the symptoms of hot flashes. Although, very often, there isn’t much one can do to avoid it altogether, he says.
Medical remedies, like Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and phytoestrogen supplements, help deal with menopausal symptoms. However, it’s rare for hot flashes to be debilitating or the main reason for medical intervention.
03. You will need Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT)
“Estrogen plays a role far beyond this [reproductive health] in our body. It’s good for your heart, brain, bones, spine, and that’s where Hormonal Replacement Therapy really helps. But a patient cannot arbitrarily start it,” says Dr Munjaal.
A visit to a gynaecologist is mandatory around this time; to assess your options, based on individual and familial health history, present symptoms, and a general understanding of HRT’s pros and cons. Whether or not a woman needs it, is a doctor-patient decision.
04. You will gain weight
“Estrogen helps regulate body shape and the deposition of fat in different areas. It’s important to understand how its absence affects your body,” says Dr Munjaal. While Indian women tend to experience some amount of weight gain around menopause, it isn’t true for all, observes Dr Munjaal. Women who exercise regularly (cardio, strength training) and maintain a healthy diet, tend to suffer lesser issues with weight gain and changes in body shape, he adds. Those who don’t but are naturally a little slimmer, are the ones who tend to put on a little more weight.
HEALTH TIP: Relearn what works for your body in terms of optimal calorie intake, fitness routines, etc. It’s not too late to get healthy. Chat with your gynaecologist about calcium and Vitamin D supplements. — Dr Munjaal Kapadia
05. You don’t need birth control while going through menopause
Birth control can be tricky during perimenopause — that is, the couple of years before menopause. During this time, women tend to experience irregular periods and “carelessness [with birth control] may creep in. While conceiving is rare, it can be embarrassing and shocking. Because women tend to assume that the first few months of their pregnancy are part of menopause,” he says.
Once you are menopausal (haven’t had a period for 12 months), you don’t need birth control since your body isn’t making eggs anymore. Either way, Dr Munjaal reminds that in cases of multiple partners, safe sex practices are essential to preventing STDs.
06. Menopause marks the end of a woman’s sex life
It’s true that lower estrogen levels impact your libido, trigger low moods, and may make sex uncomfortable due to vaginal dryness. But menopausal women can still have a healthy, happy sex life, reassures Dr Munjaal.
The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional health advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your physician or a qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a possible medical condition.