Menopause is a critical phase in the lives of women. It evokes discussion, controversy and concern among women and their health care providers about how best to deal with acute symptoms and what changes or interventions are best for optimization of long-term health.
Scientifically, menopause is defined as the time in a woman’s life when her periods (menstruation) cease. It is a natural, normal body change that most often occurs between ages 45 – 55.
The age at menopause differ in different societies. In Africa, because of poor nutrition and feeding, women experience cessation of menses earlier and sometimes more acutely.
After menopause, a woman can no longer become pregnant because the sex hormone secretion has stopped completely.
Menopause is complete when there has not been a period (menses) for one year. The official date is determined retroactively, once 12 months have passes after the last appearance of menstrual blood.
The transition itself has a variable degree of effects and for some people it can be a difficult time of life.
Signs and symptoms of Menopause
Signs and symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, vaginal dryness or atrophy, anxiety, irritability, depression, reduced sexual desire, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis/bone loss, fatigue, backache, mood swings, problems concentrating and weight gain. During this period, fertility diminishes, but is not considered to reach zero until the official date of menopause.
Management of Menopause
Hormone replacement therapy has been the treatment of choice for years in both andropause and menopause until new evidence surfaced about its fatal side effects such as cancer.
Some specific botanicals have been postulated to have several mechanisms of action; oestrogenic, progestogenic and serotonergic.
They have become popular and important with the discovery of health risks associated with Hormone Replacement Therapies (HRTs), and are therefore the treatment of choice for menopause.
Men also go through decline in their sex hormones; this is referred to as andropause. Unlike menopause in women, when hormone production stops suddenly and completely, hormone decline in men is a slower and gradual process.
Hence a healthy man may be able to make sperm well into his 80s or later and may therefore impregnate a woman.
Men experience a decline in the production of the male hormone with aging, but this also occurs with conditions such as diabetes.
Along with the decline in sex hormone, some men experience symptoms that include: Fatigue, Weakness, Depression, Sexual problems; diminished sexual drive, fewer spontaneous erections and shrunken testes.
Others are reduced muscle bulk and strength, night sweats, infertility, depression, loss of body hair, swollen breasts, palpitations, irritability, reduced self-confidence, poor concentration, memory loss, sleep problems, increased body fat and anemia.
The depression can lead to irritability, withdrawal, risk taking, excessive work or excessive drinking.
It is normal for erections to occur less frequently in older men than in younger men.
However, erectile dysfunction (ED) is usually brought on by medical or psychological causes, not simple aging. About 90 percent of ED is believed to have medical origins such as drugs taken to treat high blood pressure etc.
Management of Andropause
Any man experiencing some of the above symptoms should visit his healthcare provider for a check-up and counselling on lifestyle changes that may include regular physical, mental and emotional exercises and adoption of healthy diet.
Menopause and Andropause are not times of anxiety and confusion. The myths about them are un-founding and should be disregarded.
When men and women understand their bodies and the hormonal changes that occur during andropause or menopause, it may actually be a time to experience fantastic excitement and a great deal of happiness.
In women, discomforts such as hot flashes can prolong for some years and women experiencing discomfort due to signs and symptoms of menopause are advised to visit their healthcare provider.
This article was written by Mrs. Ukamaka Okafor. She is a Pharmacist and lives in Lagos