November 5, 2023

Menopause: the truth about the signs and symptoms

There is more to menopause than meets the eye, so let us look at the bigger picture. The perception to many is that menopause means symptoms. In fact, it is very far from the truth. A menstruator may have no symptoms whatsoever, but they will still be traveling in a one-way direction along a hormone continuum, from menarche to the climacteric. 

While menopause transition symptoms can be challenging, they are mostly manageable and temporary. [And yes, I have ‘been there done that bought the t-shirt’, so have a complete understanding of how bloody awful the process can be] However …

The long-term consequences of hormonal decline, on the other hand, can significantly impact one’s health and overall quality of life. It’s important to consider the broader health implications of hormonal changes, with a lifetime lens.

Here are seven ways that explain how menopause symptoms are a lower risk than the consequences of hormonal decline.

1. Maintaining Bone Health: Menopause symptoms, such as night sweats and mood swings, can be challenging, but the consequences of hormonal decline include a higher risk of osteoporosis due to reduced oestrogen levels. Osteoporosis can lead to fractures and long-term health complications.

2. Cardiovascular Health: Hormonal decline during menopause can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke in females when compared to males of the same age. While hot flushes can be uncomfortable, they are generally not life-threatening [but can become so if left unmanaged, particularly in women of colour]. Cardiovascular diseases can have severe consequences.

3. Brain Health: Hormonal changes in menopause may contribute to cognitive disruption, but hormonal decline is associated with a higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, which can have profound, long-term effects on one’s quality of life.

4. Vaginal and Sexual Health: Menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness can impact sexual comfort, but the consequences of hormonal decline can lead to a range of sexual and urogenital issues, affecting intimacy and overall well-being.

5. Metabolic Health: Menopause can bring weight gain and changes in metabolism, but hormonal decline can significantly increase the risk of metabolic conditions such as diabetes, with potential life-altering complications.

6. Emotional Well-Being: Mood swings and anxiety during menopause can be challenging, but untreated hormonal decline can lead to severe depression and mood disorders, affecting one’s overall mental health and quality of life.

7. Increased Cancer Risk: Hormonal decline increases the risk of certain cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer. While menopausal symptoms can be uncomfortable, they are generally not life-threatening in the same way that cancers can be.

Menopause is a complex and multifaceted phase in a person’s life, with more depth than what is immediately visible. Understanding and addressing these aspects are essential for a well-rounded and fulfilling experience of postmenopause. In essence, menopause is a multi-dimensional life event that encompasses not just physical changes but also profound shifts in well-being, self-identity, and cultural contexts. Recognizing these deeper values can help individuals and society at large better understand and navigate this transformative phase in a person’s life.

Fiona Catchpowle

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