Menopause treatment, signs and symptoms with Dr Jana Pittman
Jana has represented Australia at 3 Olympic Games and is the first Australian woman to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. She is recognised as one of Australia’s greatest female athletes, as a two-time World Champion and four-time Commonwealth Champion in the 400m hurdles.
Now a qualified medical doctor specialising in women’s health, Jana is also a mother to 6 children. She was also recently on SAS Australia, where she experienced incontinence on air and spoke openly about it.
A note from Jana to start: This blog is not exclusive. The topic of menopause fills books, not just pages. Therefore, if you have symptoms or want more information about menopause treatment, please see your local doctor or women’s health specialist. Do not suffer alone or in silence.
From menopause treatment to unusual menopause symptoms, Dr Jana covers it all. Let’s dive into it.
Menopause management: What are the signs and symptoms?
Several stages lead to menopause, but a person is considered to have entered menopause when they have not had a menstrual cycle for over 12 consecutive months.
For many, perimenopause is the annoying time that relates to the years leading up to when your period ends. While some will breeze through this time, others will be stopped dead in their tracks by the hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleepless nights.
While there are many myths about the signs and symptoms of menopause, it’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different. Some of the most common symptoms are:
Vaginal dryness comes about due to less circulating estrogen overall but also to the vagina and vulva. The effect is decreased lubrication and secretions, which can lead to sexual discomfort.
Hot flashes and night sweats are one of the most reported concerns. The cause of these pestering personal heat waves is poorly understood. It is thought estrogen may have a relationship with thermoregulation. However, research shows how levels of estrogen don’t directly cause hot flashes, so the jury is out.
- Sleep deprivation, stress and low mood are often linked to the other symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes. Many people report throwing the sheets off in a sweaty mess and awakening with chattering teeth only half an hour later. Trying to establish good sleep patterns is important but can be tricky.
Are there any unusual menopause symptoms?
Everyone experiences perimenopause and menopause in different ways. Some of the most important but perhaps considered unusual menopause symptoms are the reduction in bone density, change in cellular metabolism (which leads to weight gain) and changes to your cardiac muscles (heart).
Estrogen has a lot to answer for. Another important consideration around menopause, due to the lower estrogen levels, is the weakening of the pelvic floor and thinning of the urethra (the tube that removes urine from the bladder). This can lead to an increase in urinary incontinence and prolapse.
What is the average age of menopause in Australia? How long does it generally last?
For most people, the average age of menopause is between 45 and 60 years old and can last between 4 and 5 years. Some people do experience menopause in their late 30s, which is called ‘premature menopause’.
What is happening in the body?
During our reproductive years, the female body keeps a tight balance on its hormones. There is a remarkable sex-steroid negative feedback mechanism inside our bodies that operates like a highway for hormones.
It is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-gonadal axis. It’s very complicated, but, in a nutshell, it keeps the levels of circulating hormones in balance with the aim of producing a mature egg each month for reproduction. Perimenopause starts when the number of eggs retained in the ovaries declines.
Incredibly, at birth, all of the eggs and ovarian follicles you will ever make are lying dormant inside your ovaries. Most people are born 5 hundred thousand to 1 million; as you age, this egg reserve slowly reduces.
Perimenopause starts when the number of eggs retained in the ovaries begins to decline. Estrogen levels are initially preserved or slightly increased as the body tries to stimulate the ovaries, which can result in shorter, more frequent menstrual cycles. Following this in late perimenopause, there are marked periods of amenorrhea (no period) or anovulatory cycles (no egg released) before completely ceasing menstruation and entering the postmenopausal phase.
Does menopause make you sweat?
Ah, the age-old question: does menopause make you sweat? It can. More than 50% of women report experiencing hot flashes and night sweats. The most common areas for sweat are under the breasts, around the neck and face. It’s often said to feel like a heat wave starting in the chest, flushing the face and then feeling sweat dripping down the forehead.
If you’re dealing with menopausal sweats, the right absorbent apparel can be life-changing. Modibodi’s Sweatproof Bra is designed to absorb 20ml of boob sweat while shaping comfortably to the body. This ground-breaking bra is the ultimate sweaty boob hack. Absorbent, breathable and soft on the skin, it's sure to be your new go-to.
Jana’s final words of wisdom
My best advice is to remember menopause management is different for everyone! There is so much debate around whether you should try menopause treatment. So do what is right for you, and let’s help each other and make no judgement.
For some, regular exercise or even non-prescription treatment options like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can do wonders. If your symptoms are still not manageable, it’s worth seeing your GP to discuss other options like non-hormonal medications or estrogen replacement therapy. If you continue to have debilitating symptoms, your doctor can refer you to a gynaecologist specialising in menopause.
The big message here is to seek help and get good-quality information to map out a safe and effective plan for you.