The term ‘menopause’ is derived from two Greek words: ‘mensis’ which means month and ‘pausis’ which means stop. Menopause thus literally translates to the stopping of monthly sequences. Menopause can be defined as the transition period prior to and after the end of a woman’s menstruation cycle (Gracia et al, 2005). It marks the end of a woman’s ability to conceive as ovaries cease to function. Natural menopause occurs on all women at any juncture between the age of 40 and 60. However, up to 1% of women experience pre-mature menopause, which means that they stop menstruating before hitting 40 years of age (Moilanen et al, 2010).
What are the stages of menopause?
There are three stages of menopause namely; perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. Perimenopause is the period that precedes menopause and is usually characterized by irregularly occurring menstrual cycles that accompany some indications of menopause. Perimenopause can start as early as ten years before the final menstruation. If a whole year passes without having menstrual periods, the woman is said to have undergone menopause. Postmenopause refers to the rest of the life of a woman after the occurrence of the final menstruation.
Signs and symptoms of menopause
The severity and length of time in which menopause symptoms are experienced varies from one person another. Numerous factors including genetic makeup, general wellbeing, nutrition and lifestyle play out to determine when the signs set in and how much they affect the woman experiencing them. Menopause is clinically diagnosed with amenorrhea – the lack of menstruation for 12 months – and thus can only be declared retrospectively. However, there is a wide range of menopause signs and symptoms which precede, come along with and even come after menopause. Some common menopause signs and symptoms include:
- Irregular menstruation normally symptomizes that menopause is about to occur. While myriad factors can cause irregular, short or absence of periods at any point during a woman’s life, perimenopause is the leading factor for women approaching or at middle age. Bleeding can become more frequent, heavier, lighter or go on for long periods.
- Infertility. Estrogen levels go down remarkably during perimenopause. Consequently, a woman’s capability to conceive is significantly hampered.
- Sleep problems. A big number of women at the menopausal stage experience sleep disturbances, usually resulting from anxiety, insomnia and night sweats. Menopause increases the difficulty catching and maintaining sleep.
- Memory problems. Some women find it hard to remember things or may have difficulty concentrating and learning something for prolonged periods.
- Irritability. Sleep problems and irritability usually go together because insufficient or restless sleep result to moodiness.
- Hot flashes are abrupt rises of temperature at the top part of the body that can begin at the chest, neck or face and then spread downwards or upwards. Hot flashes are usually accompanied by sweating, reddening of the skin and increased heart rate.
- Other menopause signs and symptoms include loss of libido, vaginal dryness, urinating problems or incontinence, fatigue, hair loss, dizziness, bloating, allergies and weight gain.
It is worth noting that not everyone experiences all the symptoms. Additionally, the symptoms may be more or less severe to some people.
Western Medical Treatments for Menopause
Up to 25% of all menopausal women experience agonizing menopause signs and symptoms and thus require treatment. The common treatment for managing tormenting or worrying menopausal symptoms in a Western medical setting is hormone replacement therapy or HRT. This therapy comprises of the restoration of oestrogen and progestogen. While HRT offers relief to menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and sleep problems, it usually requires to be administered for prolonged periods, at times for the rest of their lives.
According to the Women’s Health Initiative study published in 2002 in the United States and the Million Women Study published in the UK in 2003, prolonged HRT usage increases the probability of contracting breast cancer and heart disease. Other studies have confirmed that HRT raises the risk of getting ovarian and uterine cancers. The remarkable side effects of HRT do not end there. It is linked to cervical dysplasia, barrenness, immune problems, autoimmune conditions, as well as malfunctioning of the liver and thyroid. Luckily, HRT is not the only answer to menopause symptoms. Traditional Chinese Medicine does an exemplary job of managing menopause symptoms. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have proven capability to relieve nearly all symptoms linked to menopause like hot flashes, moodiness, amenorrhea, memory loss, fatigue and infertility.
Acupuncture: Effective solution to menopause symptoms
For the up to 3,000 years that acupuncture has been practiced in Asian societies, the Chinese have perfected and passed on the art and science of TCM in treating innumerable conditions ranging from mental, emotional to physical ailments. Acupuncture is the mainstay of Asian medicine and shines in treating reproductive problems as well as menopause issues. Acupuncture has increasingly gained prominence in the Western world for the simple reason that its holistic approach works in providing relief and healing.
Numerous studies have reaffirmed that acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and proper nutrition offer effective relief for menopause symptoms. For instance, Lyttleton published a study in the Australian Journal of Acupuncture (1990) that indicated that acupuncture is hugely effective in treating irritability, anxiety and hot flushes that are linked to menopause. Budd et al (1998) also demonstrated that acupuncture and Chinese herbs can treat infertility problems for middle aged women and the rest of the population.
From a Chinese medical standpoint, menopause happens when the body of a woman starts preserving energy and blood in a bid to maintain her “oomph” and enable optimal nourishment to the body organs, particularly the kidneys. TCM regards the kidney as the core to longevity and wellbeing. Acupuncturists and TCM practitioners understand that menopause isn’t a single syndrome and that it affects different women differently. Acupuncturists know that different women have unique menopause signs and symptoms and thus focus on alleviating particular symptoms for the different individuals by using different acupuncture points. The symptoms you’re experiencing help the acupuncturist in coming up with tailor-made treatment plan.
At our clinic serving the greater South Florida area, Dr. Dongfeng Zhou is specializing in the treatment of menopausal symptoms for women. If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, please understand that there is help available to you. Consultations with Dr. Zhou are free, so give our clinic a call today to get started. Learn more about acupuncture treatment by clicking here.
– Budd, S., Yelland, S., & Maciocia, G. (1998). Acupuncture and herbal treatment in midwifery. Obstetrics and gynecology in Chinese medicine. London: Churchill Livingstone, 559-75.
– Cohen, S. M., Rousseau, M. E., & Carey, B. L. (2003). Can acupuncture ease the symptoms of menopause?. Holistic nursing practice, 17(6), 295-299.
– Gracia, C. R., Sammel, M. D., Freeman, E. W., Lin, H., Langan, E., Kapoor, S., & Nelson, D. B. (2005). Defining menopause status: creation of a new definition to identify the early changes of the menopausal transition. Menopause, 12(2), 128-135.
– Lyttleton, J. (1990). Management of menopause. Australian Journal of Acupuncture, 12, 5-10.
– Million Women Study Collaborators. (2003). Breast cancer and hormone-replacement therapy in the Million Women Study. The Lancet, 362(9382), 419-427.
– Moilanen, J., Aalto, A. M., Hemminki, E., Aro, A. R., Raitanen, J., & Luoto, R. (2010). Prevalence of menopause symptoms and their association with lifestyle among Finnish middle-aged women. Maturitas, 67(4), 368-374.
– Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators. (2002). Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results from the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. Jama, 288(3), 321-333.