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Shattering Stigmas, Navigating Menopause With Conversations That Matter

Women should approach menopause with a sense of empowerment and confidence, recognising the transformative nature of this unique phase in their lives.

As women go through menopause, they encounter many health impacts that extend beyond the cessation of menstrual cycles. Picture courtesy of Sunway Medical Centre.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 – As women transition through different life stages, one significant milestone that often remains shrouded in misconceptions and whispers is menopause.

This natural biological process marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, usually by the end of the menstrual period for over 12 months. However, it is also a journey deserving of understanding and support.

To unravel the intricacies of menopause and its impact on women’s health, Dr Syeda Nureena Zaidi, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Sunway Medical Centre, sheds light on this often-misunderstood chapter in a woman’s life and how women can navigate this change smoothly. 

“Menopause is not an end; it’s a transition. It often happens when women are in their fifties. It is marked by hormonal shifts when the body stops producing oestrogen. This can manifest in symptoms such as hot flashes, fatigue, vaginal dryness, insomnia, and more.

“However, many Malaysian women may not be aware of the full extent of their symptoms and that they can be managed effectively when understood. This includes arming themselves with knowledge and talking about it with their family and friends to help maintain their overall well-being and manage symptoms,” said Dr Syeda.

Breaking the Silence And The Hidden Impacts of Menopause on Women’s Overall Health 

As women go through menopause, they encounter many health impacts that extend beyond the cessation of menstrual cycles.

Menopause is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

Oestrogen reduces LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) transcytosis, possibly protecting women from heart disease before menopause. Oestrogen also aids in preventing skin ageing by increasing skin collagen content, maintaining skin moisture, and potentially improving wound healing.

“Risk of heart disease among menopausal women is increased due to the lack of oestrogen that also works to protect the heart,” added Dr Syeda.

Another concern is for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), as menopause presents unique considerations.

Menopause, whether natural or surgical, significantly increases the prevalence of subclinical atherosclerosis in middle-aged women with PCOS.

“PCOS alters hormonal balance from an earlier age and requires closer monitoring and specialised care to regulate hormone levels, managing irregular periods to prevent further risks such as endometrial cancer,” Dr Syeda noted.

Menopause often carries a social stigma, with women reluctant to discuss their experiences openly. This could cause them some mental distress or depression as they do not have an appropriate outlet to discuss their symptoms. 

Dr. Syeda advocates for awareness and support. “Discussing your symptoms with your support network, menopause societies, friends, and even a gynaecologist when in menopause instead of just for pap smears.

“We can help monitor menopause symptoms for irregularities, ease their worries and provide the best solution to help alleviate it so women can be empowered to navigate this phase confidently and with a positive mindset.”

Unlocking The Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) emerges as a viable option for women grappling with severe menopausal symptoms. HRT involves the treatment of oestrogen plus progestin therapy (OPT) and oestrogen-only therapy (OT) to help the body replenish the lack of hormones and can significantly improve symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.

Oestrogen replacement therapy in postmenopausal women can also reduce their risk of coronary heart disease, improve blood flow, and reduce atherosclerosis.

Dr Syeda speaks about the benefits of HRT, stating: “HRT treatment can be quite effective at not just alleviating discomfort and symptoms during menopause but also helping enhance the overall quality of life during this phase.

“However, the key to HRT treatment is to start early (within the ten years of menopause) as the long-term impacts of HRT will last longer for women and would be more beneficial.”

However, Dr Syeda stresses the importance of informed decision-making regarding HRT.

“Patient selection is key. While there’s a slight increase in breast cancer risk with long-term HRT, it’s essential to consider individual factors like family history and overall health.

“Regular monitoring and open communication with health care providers mitigate potential risks, ensuring women can make choices aligned with their wellbeing,” she said.

In conclusion, menopause is not a phase to endure but an opportunity to embrace. It’s time for women to approach menopause not with trepidation, but with a sense of empowerment and confidence, recognising the transformative nature of this unique phase in their lives.

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