Menopause is defined as an absence of menstrual periods for 12 months or more. Generally most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, however it can occur either earlier or later in some cases. The function of the ovaries ceases and pregnancy can no longer occur. The process of menopause is gradual and is termed the perimenopausal transition period. Periods become irregular and symptoms women experience during this time are due to the lowering of oestrogen levels. They can be varied in both quality and severity.
Hot flushes, night sweats and intense sweating are the most common complaints however other symptoms may include mood changes (feelings of anxiety, nervousness, irritability and depression), sleep disturbance, stress, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, poor memory, palpitations, digestive complaints (low appetite, diarrhea, constipation etc.), weight gain, frequent urination or incontinence, vaginal dryness and itchiness, decreased libido and painful sexual intercourse.
Risks associated with menopause are an increase risk of atherosclerosis, osteopenia, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and increased blood lipids.
Western medicine treatment involves management of the symptoms with the administration of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of HRT and the potential adverse effects and associated health risks.
Menopause is not a disease or disorder, it is a natural physiological transition in life. From a Chinese Medicine perspective we look at minimizing the symptoms during this transition phase. In Chinese Medicine terminology menopausal symptoms are essentially due to a decline in the Kidney Essence, in the form of Kidney Yin, Kidney Yang or a combination of Kidney Yin and Yang deficiency. In some cases the pattern may be further complicated by Liver Yin deficiency, Liver Yang rising, Heart Empty-Heat, Qi stagnation, Phlegm and Blood stasis.
The severity of menopausal symptoms a woman experiences can be strongly influenced by the lifestyle and dietary habits throughout her life. Stress, overwork, poor diet, smoking, alcohol and coffee can all contribute to weakening the kidney essence over time and causing problems later in life. This highlights the importance of having a balanced lifestyle, as prevention is better than cure!