Menopause is a normal biological event that marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. It is the point when menstruation stops permanently. On average, menopause occurs at age 51, but like the beginning of menstruation in adolescence, timing varies from person to person. Most women will spend at least one-third of their lives in or beyond menopause.
Menopause is the last stage of a gradual biological process in which the ovaries reduce their production of female sex hormones. Oestrogen production in the body diminishes slowly over a period of years, commonly resulting in hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and memory loss. This gradual phase before the permanent cessation of menstrual periods is sometimes called peri-menopause. The process of menopause is considered complete when a woman has not menstruated for an entire year. Another type of menopause, known as surgical menopause, occurs if both ovaries are removed for medical reasons. This may be done at the time of a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).
Living without the protective effects of oestrogen increases a woman's risk for developing serious medical conditions, including osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. There are a variety of treatments available to help ease the symptoms of and reduce health risks associated with menopause.
Signs and Symptoms
Each woman experiences her own variation of the typical symptoms of menopause. Some studies even suggest that the signs and symptoms of menopause may vary between cultural groups. For example, up to 80% of American women experience hot flushes during menopause while only 10% of Japanese women experience that symptom. Some researchers speculate that these differences may be due to differences in diet, lifestyle, and/or cultural attitudes toward ageing. In general, however, the loss of oestrogen that occurs during menopause causes the following symptoms:
• Irregular menstrual cycles – menstrual bleeding slows, becomes erratic, and then stops permanently (the process takes about four years)
• Hot flushes-flushing of face and chest (may be accompanied by heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches)
• Night sweats
• Cold hands and feet
•Vaginal changes - dryness, itching, bleeding after intercourse
• Urinary changes - frequent urination, burning during urination, urinating at night, incontinence
• Mood changes - depression, irritability, tension (usually occurs with sleep disturbances)
• Loss of skin tone leading to wrinkles
• Weight gain and change in weight distribution with increased fat in the central, abdominal area
A pathomechanism commonly mentioned in modern TCM textbooks is kidney yin vacuity failing to nourish the heart and liver, leading to hyperactivity of fire of the heart and liver. While this focus on kidney yin vacuity has strongly influenced TCM treatment of menopausal syndrome in the West, Volker Scheid rightly comments that¡K
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*Reproduced with kind permission from Health World Limited – Australia and New Zealand