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Women > Reproduction > Understanding Menopause

Menopause is one of the major changes that happens in every woman’s life. It begins when the ovaries reduce production of oestrogen and progesterone, and that causes biological processes in the body to change.

Medically, menopause is defined as the time after 12 months have passed since your last period.  It is a biological process, not a medical illness, which involves a process of change - physically, emotionally, psychosocially, sexually, and even spiritually.

Menopause is not a disease, rather, it is a beginning of another journey towards self-realization. Many changes occur in a woman’s physical, emotional and psychological aspects during menopause. Many of these changes often cause stress and depression among women.

Some women may experience a number of physical and emotional changes, including hot flashes, sleep disturbances and night sweats, vaginal changes, irregular menstruation, decreased libido, insomnia, mood changes, changes in sexual desire, changes and appearance.

A woman's experiences during menopause may also be influenced by emotional life changes such as children leaving home, divorce or widowhood, retirement, changes in domestic, social, and personal relationships, changes in identity and body image, or anxiety about loss of independence, disability or loneliness.

Every woman will experience menopause differently. While menopause usually occurs after the age of 50, it can start anywhere from the 30’s and for some, not until their 60’s.  The hormonal changes that occur at menopause and the years preceding it can cause a variety of symptoms, and these include:

Irregular menstruation.

Women experience irregular periods due to the changing hormone levels. This may be first clue that menopause is close at hand. Periods may stop suddenly, or gradually get lighter or heavier and then stop.

Prior to menopause, many women experience irregular periods due to the changing hormone levels and decreased frequency of ovulation (egg release). When ovulation begins to fluctuate, women are less likely to become pregnant and when they do, it is thought there is a greater chance of foetal abnormality.

Vaginal changes.

The tissues lining the vagina, vulva and urethra become drier, thinner and less elastic. With decreased lubrication, women may experience burning, itching and discomfort during sexual intercourse. There is also an increased risk of infections to the urinary tract or vagina.  One of the more distressing symptoms is vaginal dryness and they need to use more lube during intercourse.

Emotional/psychological changes.

Women going through menopause may experience mood swings, irritability and emotional upsets. Aside from hormonal fluctuations, other factors may also contribute to these changes, including stress, insomnia, and other life changes.

Hot flashes - hot flushes

About 85% of women experience hot flashes. A hot flash or flush is a warm or flushed sensation that moves upward from the chest to the shoulders, neck and head. Skin temperatures rapidly rise, it may cause facial redness and often causes sweating. Hot flashes usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes or longer.

The difference between a flash and a flush is the the flash is more superficial and a flush feels like you're being filled up.

Physical appearance.

Because of hormonal changes, women may notice a loss of fullness in the breasts, thinning hair and wrinkled and dry skin.

Night sweats and sleep disturbance. Night sweats are often the result of hot flashes. One may suddenly wake up at the middle of the night with soaking sweat to be followed by chills. As a result, sleep deprivation along with its apparent effects is very likely.

Self-care During Menopause

Menopause is not the end of the road for all women. Here are a number of steps to help reduce or prevent the more negative effects of menopause.

  1. Cool those hot flashes/ flushes.
    Hot flashes are sudden or mild waves of body heat that rise from the chest to the face causing facial redness and sweating. Taking some clothes off and taking a shower can reduce the discomfort.

    Some women see hot flushes as power surges and they are able to transmute some of that energy into productive activity. But it's important to accept this fact of life and do one's best to maintain mental and emotional balance.

    Eat enough calcium and other nutrients necessary for calcium absorption. Also try to have at least one food rich in phytoestrogens which are found in soy products (soy milk, tofu, miso), legumes, and certain fruits and vegetables (squash, yams, carrots, papayas). Taking in Vitamin B-complex and Vitamin E supplements are also helpful. Limit caffeine-intake found in coffee, tea, alcohol, chocolate, along with alcohol, sugar and spicy founds.
  2. Decrease vaginal discomforts.
    Because of certain shifts in hormonal production, women may experience burning, itching and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Use over-the-counter water-based vaginal lubricants or moisturizers.

    This is also a time to seek deeper intimacy as may be found in some tantric practices.
  3. Exercise regularly.
    Exercising helps release endorphins which in turn help reduce stress and promote well-being. Physical activity can relieve hot flashes, improve sleep, and protect you against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and weight gain. Try a combination of strength-training exercises and aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging and dancing.
  4. Optimize sleep.
    Avoid caffeinated food and beverages and try to exercise right before bedtime. Practice a number of relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or yoga.
  5. Don’t smoke.
    Smoking poses a lot of health problems. It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and a range of other problems. Smoking may also increase hot flashes and bring on earlier menopause.
  6. Have regular check-ups.
    Always see your doctor and schedule for mammograms, Pap tests and other screening tests. Remember prevention is always better than cure.



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