Menopause is a natural process whereby a woman no longer has periods and is unable to become pregnant naturally. It typically occurs between 45 and 55 years old, as the hormone, oestrogen, begins to decline. With more women pursuing a career, and delaying children-bearing, the possibility of delaying menopause could allow them to conceive and carry naturally - but can menopause be delayed?
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What is Menopause?
Approximately 1.3 million women experience menopause each year in the United States. During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles rapidly declines, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) no longer causes egg development. Subsequently, the typical surge in luteinizing hormone and seen in menstruating women is unable to occur and as a consequence, estrogen production decrease and menstruation ceases.
There is a range of symptoms that might be experienced in women going through the menopause. First, noticeable changes are often related to the pattern of their periods. Women may begin to have unusually heavy or light periods, and the frequency in which their periods occur may change. Eventually, women will stop having periods.
In addition to this, some of the following symptoms may be experienced.
- Hot flushes
- Reduced libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood changes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Night sweats
Symptoms typically last for 4 years, but vary for each woman. Decreased estrogen levels that occur with menopause have been associated with reduced bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.
Menopause Symptom Treatment
Because menopause is a natural and expected health event for all women, treatment is not necessary. Many women find that lifestyle changes are sufficient to function normally with these changes. However, some women wish to have relief from menopausal symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy is available for management of some menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. However, these medications have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer, so women should discuss risks and benefits with their healthcare providers before beginning treatment.
Hormone Replacement Therapy - Image Credit: Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Can Menopause Be Delayed?
For some, the symptoms experienced while going through the menopause can be debilitating. Furthermore, due to the decline in sex hormones, the ability to conceive can be an issue for women wanting to have a family later on in life.
However, a pioneering medical procedure may help thousands of women who are wanting to postpone the onset of their menopause. The operation aims to delay menopause for up to 20 years to enable older women past the typical age of menopause to conceive and carry a child naturally.
Procedure to Delay Menopause
Created by a fertility expert who originally developed in vitro fertilization (IVF), the menopause delay operation is considered to be the first of its kind. Laparoscopy, commonly known as keyhole surgery, is used to remove a small fragment of the patient’s ovary, which is then frozen at approximately -150 degrees Celsius. The tissue is then kept in an ice bank until the patient reaches menopause.
Upon reaching menopause, the tissue is thawed and grafted back into the patient. This subsequently triggers sex hormones typically active in menstruating women, and, in turn, delays the onset of menopause.
The operation is currently being offered by ProFaM (Protecting Fertility and Menopause), which can enable a woman to prolong their natural fertility period. For some, this may mean they are able to conceive into their 70s. However, it has been noted by the founding CEO, Professor Simon Fishel, that there are ethical issues to consider with pregnancy late in life.
So far, nine women aged between 22-36-years-old have undergone surgery and costs range from about $3000 - $7,800 for the removal and storage of the ovarian tissue, and $4,400 for the second regraft procedure.
Benefits of Delaying Menopause
Ultimately, having the option to delay the onset of menopause can allow women to be proactive in the management of their health and delay menopause if they desire. It has been suggested that the procedure may reduce the financial strain on the NHS, particularly for menopause-related health issues.