Menopause is a phase that almost all women 50 and older will go through. It is characterized by the end of menstruation and occurs when the ovaries stop producing female hormones. However, when this process takes place before the age of 40, it is considered premature. In a recent interview with Patrícia Kogut, a columnist for the O Globo newspaper, presenter Angélica revealed that she has been facing the situation for several years.
– I found that people don’t talk much about that woman’s periods, and when they do, they think it’s the end. And it is not. I think it’s important for women to know that life after menopause can be great. We don’t have to suffer from that – said Angelica in the interview.
Early menopause is rare and affects only 1% of women. However, those under 40 should be aware of the symptoms (see the infographic below) to see a gynecologist or endocrinologist and start hormone replacement quickly.
– When we diagnose that the ovaries are secreting little hormone and therefore the woman is showing symptoms, we can prescribe hormones so that she is full again – says Amanda Athayde, member of the Brazilian Association of Endocrinology and Metabology (SBEM) and professor of UFRJ.
Early menopause can be caused by lesions in the ovaries – such as those caused by chemotherapy -, autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, and genetic causes. Diagnosis is made through blood tests that can show the decrease in female hormones.
Once the diagnosis is made, there is a very strong indication of hormone replacement therapy. Unless there is a contraindication, such as in women with hormonal cancer. These should not be replaced – explains Ruth Clapauch, director of the department of Female Endocrinology and Andrology at SBEM.
Watch for symptoms
One of the main signs of menopause, whether early or not, is the change in the menstrual cycle. Menstruation begins to be staggered until it doesn’t come. If your last period happened at least a year ago (without using hormonal contraceptives), you are already in menopause
Another common symptom is hot flashes, which usually occur at night. Heat starts from the bottom up and is usually accompanied by palpitations. The heat wave can be mild to intense
When hot flashes appear, it is normal for a woman to start sweating excessively. This symptom goes away minutes later, but it usually causes a lot of discomfort to the woman
The drop in estrogen hormone levels has a direct impact on a woman’s sleep quality as this hormone is linked to sleep regulation. In addition, hot flashes and sweating can occur at night, disrupting sleep, which can be interrupted
Female hormones are strongly associated with mood. When they fall dramatically, such as in the period prior to or during menopause, the woman may be more irritable, anxious, and with symptoms of depression
The lower level of female hormones, a sign of the onset of menopause, causes dry skin and also of the vaginal canal, which can cause pain during intercourse
Increased risk of heart problems
Early menopause accelerates aging and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. New research conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States reveals that women with the condition often show certain changes in blood cells that increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
According to Ruth, the female hormones work in the arteries and promote the production of nitric oxide, a substance that prevents the build-up of fatty plaques in the blood vessels:
– If the woman is not in menopause, she is protected against atherosclerosis (accumulation of fat in the arteries). If a woman does not undergo hormone replacement during menopause, she will lose this protection.
Female hormones also help regulate cholesterol and glucose, lowering the risk of other heart problems and diabetes.
Untreated menopause can also cause bone problems such as osteoporosis. One of the functions of female hormones is to fix the calcium obtained by feeding on the bones. If the woman does not have estrogen, calcium is excreted directly in the urine, weakening the bones.
– If the woman is in menopause and does not have a female hormone, the calcium in the bones leaves more than it enters. It gradually loses bone mass, about 3% per year. It’s a process that can cause osteoporosis over the years – warns Ruth.
Women who cannot undergo hormone replacement should treat each of the consequences of menopause individually.