Most women are aware of menopause as a hormonal change that will happen eventually (or is perhaps happening right now). But how many of us are really aware of why menopause happens?
Understanding what’s happening in your body is important, and could help you better manage your symptoms. Let’s take a quick tour of the hormonal shifts that are in store for us all.
What causes menopause?
Menopause occurs when ovaries stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This process actually begins in the brain, where a follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) produced by the pituitary gland prompts the development of ovarian follicles (each containing one egg) every month.
This kick starts a process where the ovaries develop the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Each hormone has a different function within the menstrual process. Sufficient oestrogen levels trigger another pituitary hormone (LH) to surge, which in turn triggers the ovary to release an egg.
Progesterone’s function is to thicken the uterus lining and fill it with nutrients to nourish a fertilised egg. If no pregnancy occurs, levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, and the uterine lining is shed through menstruation.
As women age, this process slows and we stop producing this dance of hormones. Oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, and the body stops preparing itself for pregnancy each month. Eggs stop being released from the ovaries, and menstruation ceases altogether.
The process of dwindling hormones is known as peri-menopause. When a woman stops having menstrual periods altogether, she has reached menopause.
Although the average age for Australian women to reach menopause is 51 years old, these changes can sometimes occur in women as early as in their 40s. Menopause can also be artificially triggered by hysterectomy, some radiation therapies, chemotherapy, or primary ovarian insufficiency.
How hormone depletion affects the female body
Oestrogen and progesterone play important roles not only in the reproductive cycle, but also affect other areas within the body. As the body adjusts to lower levels of these hormones, menopausal symptoms may occur such as:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Mood swings, anxiety and irritability
- Tiredness and difficulty concentrating
- Body aches and pains
- Abdominal bloating
- Headaches and migraines
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may offer some relief of these symptoms. However, women with a family or personal history of breast cancer sometimes choose not to take this option, fearing even small doses of oestrogen will increase their risk of developing breast cancer, or of it reoccurring.
An additional common, yet often unaddressed symptom of menopause is vaginal dryness.
The vagina relies on oestrogen for healthy functioning. Low oestrogen levels cause the walls of the vagina to become thinner and lose elasticity. Vaginal mucosa can also lose hydration and thickness, resulting in a loss of lubrication and painful intercourse.
This condition is known as vaginal atrophy, and it affects approximately half of menopausal women.
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy
The symptoms of vaginal atrophy may differ slightly from woman to woman. However, common symptoms include:
- Vaginal dryness or itchiness
- Irritation and burning of the vagina
- Fissure/s of the vaginal opening
- Pain during sex
Vaginal atrophy can also have a range of distressing emotional consequences for women, which can affect their relationships with partner/s, their enjoyment of sex, and their self esteem.
Treatment for vaginal atrophy
Traditional treatments for vaginal atrophy include lubricants, oestrogen topical creams, and oestrogen replacement therapy. The success of these treatments vary depending on each woman’s individual body type and they have to be used long term for months regularly.
Fortunately, there is an alternative non-invasive treatment that has a remarkable success rate.
Introducing The MonaLisa Touch
MonaLisa Touch is an exciting treatment for vaginal atrophy that uses laser therapy to stimulate regeneration of the vaginal tissue. It works to restore the PH balance of the vagina, stimulate collagen production and blood supply. The therapy offers significant advantages over traditional treatment options, as it addresses the cause of vaginal atrophy rather than simply masking the symptoms.
MonaLisa has proven success in removing the contributing factors of dryness, itching and burning. Most patients notice improvement by 4-6 weeks and can be assured of long-lasting results.
The procedure itself takes just 5 minutes, is painless, and has no side effects. Women usually require just three treatments spaced a month apart for their symptoms to improve up to 70-80%.
Where to get further advice
If you have symptoms of vaginal atrophy, and would like to discuss our treatments including HRT and MonaLisa Touch, or talk to an experienced gynaecologist about your reproductive health, please get in touch on 1300 780 138. We’re looking forward to seeing you.