Perimenopause

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27 04, 2012
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Perimenopause

Perimenopause, also called the menopausal transition, is the natural shift in a woman’s reproductive cycle toward menopause, or ceasing of the cycle. When a woman has gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, she is considered to have reached menopause, and the perimenopause period is over.

Women start perimenopause at different ages, and may start noticing changes in the 40s or even as early as the 30s. During the menopausal transition, the body's production of estrogen and progesterone fluctuates. These hormonal fluctuations are at the root of the changes experienced during perimenopause. These changes may include menstrual irregularity and menopause-like symptoms.

Perimenopause Symptoms

With perimenopause, a woman’s cycle may become irregular, becoming shorter, longer, heavier or lighter, or more or less than 28 days apart.  About 65-75% of women experience hot flashes. Sleeping problems are also common, often due to hot flashes or night sweats.  Some women experience mood changes such as mood swings, irritability or depression. Fertility decreases, there may be changes in sexual function and desire, and vaginal and bladder problems may also arise such as infections or urinary incontinence. Other health problems that become a concern with declining estrogen levels are loss of bone and higher risk of osteoporosis, and changing cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease.

Treatment for perimenopause symptoms will typically involve hormone therapy, oral contraceptives, or progestin therapy. Hormone therapy is less commonly recommended today because of its associated health risks, and contraceptives or progestin therapy may not effectively resolve symptoms for all women.

Acupuncture: A Safe and Effective Approach

Acupuncture is an excellent option for ensuring a healthy transition through this period of a woman’s life and is of benefit to many of the common symptoms. Menopause is a natural stage in life and the healthier a woman is overall, the healthier and smoother this transition will be. For this reason, acupuncturists don’t look at perimenopause as problematic, but rather view the symptoms and their severity as indicators of a woman’s health and possible internal imbalances that may be at the root of these symptoms. A woman in ideal health would transition through menopause with no discomfort at all (and indeed, many women do). However for many women, factors such as diet, stress, overwork, emotional upset, and exercise habits can all contribute to health, stress levels, and the overall experience during the menopause transition.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

An acupuncturist’s first task then, is to determine which internal imbalances are causing the symptoms that a woman is experiencing. Symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and depression, nervousness and anxiety, fatigue, heart palpitations, digestive issues, joint pain or stiffness, osteoporosis, loss of sex drive, and vaginal dryness are all signs that the body is not functioning at optimum health and that imbalances need to be corrected.With menopause and aging, the organs most involved are the kidneys and the liver. The kidney functioning naturally begins to decline as we age, and the liver is involved in regulating the menstrual cycle as well as balancing our emotions.

Acupuncture helps to move the body’s energy in its proper directions and amounts and to encourage these organs to function properly again. It has a regulating effect on the body, and promotes normal functioning of the various organs and systems at work in our body. By this principle, it can help to regulate hormone functioning, our sleep cycles, our energy, our digestion, and our moods. It is also a great stress reliever.

Promoting A Healthy Transition

With regular treatments we can begin to see a reduction in the severity of perimenopause symptoms and in the frequency that they are experienced, a sign that a healthy balance is being regained. Acupuncture can help with many of the symptoms of perimenopause, from hot flashes and night sweats to moods, energy, and stress, to digestive issues and joint pain. It is an excellent therapy for helping to ensure a healthy transition into menopause, embracing the changes that this new stage of life brings.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com. 

15 07, 2009

Menopause

Menopause is the transitional phase of a woman’s life when menstrual function ceases, which typically spans a 2-5 year period. During this time, hormonal levels in the body are fluctuating, as estrogen and progesterone levels gradually decline and the body responds by producing higher than normal levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). The main symptoms likely to be experienced (with varying degrees of severity) are headaches, tiredness, lethargy, irritability, anxiety, nervousness, depression, insomnia, inability to concentrate, hot flashes, and sweating.

Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 48 and 55, but menopause is a gradual physiological process that really begins with birth, and the cycle of gradual maturation and decline of a woman’s reproductive system. This certainly agrees with theChinese medicine (TCM) view of menopause, in which menopause is not viewed as a syndrome so much as a normal transition in a woman’s life that is influenced greatly by a woman’s lifestyle, emotional stress, experiences, and dietary habits.

There are many characteristics of the modern western lifestyle that can lead to increased menopausal symptoms. Emotional stress is an extremely important cause of menopausal problems, as worry, anxiety and fear all weaken the kidneys and lead to yin deficiency. Considering the increased stress posed on women through work and family in the past 40-50 years, it is not uncommon for many women to deal with ongoing overwork and stress both physical and emotional, all of which contribute to a woman’s experience during menopause. Other impacts of a fast-paced lifestyle can be poor or rushed meals, and not having the time or energy for regular exercise or stress release.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, menopausal symptoms are generally due to a decline of the kidneys as we age, often as either a deficiency of kidney-yin, kidney-yang, or both, each of which will present its own set of symptoms. Sweating in the middle of the night indicates a kidney yin deficiency, whereas sweating in the early morning upon waking indicates a kidney yang deficiency. A kidney yang deficiency will also be accompanied by a feeling of cold, especially in the feet, whereas a kidney yin deficiency will be accompanied by a feeling of heat, particularly in the chest, the palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet.

A kidney yin or yang deficiency pattern may also be combined with other patterns of imbalance, which might involve the liver, a stagnation of qi (energy), deficiency of blood. These imbalances can contribute to other menopausal symptoms: hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, depression, nervousness and anxiety, fatigue, palpitations, nausea, diarrhea and constipation, and stiffness, bloating, cramps and joint pain, among other symptoms.

Acupuncture offers a more natural approach to managing menopausal symptoms. Whereas some types of menopausal treatments may have negative side-effects, acupuncture can help to manage symptoms without any negative impact on health, indeed by bringing the body into a more balanced state of functioning, health can actually be improved. Acupuncture can help to relieve menopausal symptoms to make this transition a much more enjoyable and comfortable time of a woman’s life.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.