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Why do they call it the menopause,when it happens to women?

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Menopause

Derived from the combination of a Greek and Latin word:
Greek : MENO = Month
Latin : PAUSIS = Cessation

Mothers teach their daughters all about periods and procreation, but nobody teaches them about what happens when it all stops. Menopause (called the climacteric in the old days) has only been a fact of life for most women in the last century or two. Prior to this the majority of women did not live long enough to reach menopause, many dying from the complications of childbirth. Once a woman passes her menopause, her ovaries will no longer produce eggs, her monthly periods will cease, and no more female hormones will be manufactured. The process usually occurs gradually over several years, between the early forties and the mid-fifties, but it may occur as early as 35 or as late as 58. It is therefore not unusual for a woman to spend more of her life after the menopause (or change of life) than she spends being fertile, but this does not mean that she loses her femininity. Many women treat the end of their periods as a blessing and lead very active lives for many years afterwards (active sexually as well as physically and mentally). 

The unpleasant part of the menopause is the change from one stage to another, when the hormones go crazy, the headaches and hot flushes take over, and depression occurs. The first sign is usually an irregularity in the frequency and nature of the periods, and the gradual disappearance may be the only symptom in 25% of women. About 50% have other symptoms that cause discomfort, and the remaining 25% go through severe and very distressing symptoms.

The menopause is a natural event, and psychologically most women take it in their stride as simply another stage of life, but it is wrong to dismiss the unpleasant physical symptoms without seeking medical assistance. Doctors find the biggest problem to be the failure of their patients to tell them exactly what they are feeling and what effects the menopause is having on them. The first step in treating someone with menopausal symptoms is explanation. If they know why something is happening, it often makes the problem more bearable.


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The sex hormones are controlled by the brain and released from the ovaries into the bloodstream on regular signals from the pituitary gland, which sits underneath the center of the brain. Once in the blood, these hormones have an effect on every part of the body, but more particularly the uterus, vagina, breasts and pubic areas. It is these hormones that make the breasts grow in a teenage girl, give the woman regular periods as their levels change during the month, and cause hair to grow in the groin and armpits.

For an unknown reason, once a woman reaches an age somewhere between the early forties and early fifties, the brain breaks rhythm in sending the messages to the ovaries. The signals become irregular – sometimes too strong, at other times too weak. The ovaries respond by putting out the sex hormones in varying levels, and this causes side effects for the owner of those ovaries. The periods become irregular, vary in length and intensity, and may become painful. Other symptoms can include bloating and associated headaches and irritability as excess fluid collects in the brain, breasts and pelvis; hot flushes when hormone surges rush through the bloodstream after excess amounts are released by the ovaries; abdominal cramps caused by spasms of the uterine muscles; and depression which can be a reaction to the changes in the body, a fear of ageing or a direct effect of the hormones on the brain.

Menopause cannot be cured, because it is a natural occurrence, but doctors can relieve most of the symptoms. Sex hormone tablets are the main stay of treatment. They can be taken constantly after the change has finished, but during the menopause they are usually taken cyclically. One hormone (oestrogen) is taken for three weeks per month, and a different one (progestogen) is added in for the last 10 to 14 days. This maintains a near normal hormonal balance, and the woman will keep having periods, while underneath the artificial hormones, her natural menopause is occurring, so that when the tablets are stopped after a year or two, the menopausal symptoms will have gone. Hormones may also be given as skin patches, vaginal cream and by injection.


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After the menopause, women should continue the hormones for many years to prevent osteoporosis, skin thinning, Alzheimer’s disease and slow ageing. Taking combined oestrogen and progestogen hormone replacement for longer than five years slightly increases the risk of breast cancer, although it slightly decreases the risk of some other cancers.

Minor symptoms can be controlled individually. Fluid tablets can help bloating and headaches, other agents can help uterine cramps and heavy bleeding. Depression can be treated with specific medications.

An obvious problem faced by a woman passing through the menopause is when to stop using contraceptives. As a rule of thumb, doctors advise that contraception should be continued for six months after the last period, or for a year if the woman is under 50. Taking the contraceptive pill may actually mask many of the menopausal symptoms and cause the periods to continue. It may be necessary to use another form of contraception to determine whether the woman has gone through the menopause.

Doctors can also perform blood tests to determine relative hormone levels and tell a woman if she is through the change of life or not. These tests are very difficult to interpret if the woman is taking the contraceptive pill. Help is available, and there is no need for any woman to suffer as she changes from one stage of her life to another.

(Source: Menopause A to Z by Dr. Warwick Carter)


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