During menopause, the menstrual cycle may become more irregular. Often periods become less frequent until they stop altogether. But menopause also has several other symptoms that are related to the effect of estrogen on different systems of the body. Here we outline common symptoms of menopause and how they relate to these different bodily systems:
Estrogen plays a role in regulating body temperature. During menopause, these hormones are out of sync and diminished levels of estrogen can cause the following symptoms.
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes (hot flushes)
The Urogenital System
Estrogen is involved in the formation of collagen, which is an important substance for the lining of the bladder, urethra, vagina and vulva. A decrease in estrogen can lead to the thinning of the mucosal lining of these areas. In addition, this can cause the vagina to lose its elasticity, to become shorter and narrower. The normal secretions of the vagina and the blood supply to the vagina are also reduced. This leads to the following symptoms:
- Vaginal dryness
- Soreness of the vagina
- Painful intercourse
- Urinary frequency and urgency
In addition, as estrogen levels decrease, the production of a substance called glycogen decreases. Glycogen is involved in maintaining the acidity of the vagina. The change in acidity can make the bladder and vagina more vulnerable to bacterial infections. Therefore, this causes an increased risk of the following:
- Urinary tract infections
- Bacterial vaginosis
Bone loss occurs as we age, but it can also be affected by gender, family history, diet, exercise and smoking status. During menopause, the low estrogen levels can accelerate bone loss, especially during the first 5 years of menopause. This can lead to the following conditions:
- Weakened bones (Osteopenia, Osteoporosis) - One in three women develop osteoporosis.
- Fractures - Almost half of women will get a fracture after menopause, often in the upper thigh bone (especially in the hip), forearm or spine.
Women are naturally protected against heart disease, however, after menopause women begin to lose this protection and by the age of 65, their risk of having a heart attack is equal to men. This is because after menopause, cholesterol and triglycerides start to increase, deposition of fat changes, clotting factors and other factors that predispose heart disease start to rise. In addition, lower levels of estrogen can lead to overstimulation of the heart causing the following symptoms:
- Racing heart rate
- Heart palpitations
Hormones, especially estrogen, can have a big effect on mood and mental health. This can lead to the following symptoms:
- Mood changes