Menopause is a turning point in a woman’s life that can have a significant impact on her health and overall well-being.
Natural menopause is a gradual process that can bring about physical upheaval from hot flashes, night sweats, sleep issues and other symptoms.
Let’s take a look at the different phases of menopause and the signs and symptoms to help determine if you are entering menopause. It will be much less stressful if you are informed and know what to expect.
Perimenopause: An Overview
The transition to menopause is known as perimenopause. It can range 4-7 years prior to actual menopause. The average woman experiences perimenopause at approximately 46 years of age.
During this phase, a woman’s ovaries are beginning to produce less estrogen. Estrogen is the hormone that helps control the menstrual cycle. You will notice a difference in your periods which will vary from woman to woman.
Although periods may become unpredictable, ovulation can still occur, so it is still possible to get pregnant.
In fact, many of the signs and symptoms of perimenopause are similar to pregnancy or PMS including the following.
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Decreased libido
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
Perimenopausal women will notice these symptoms appear at any time throughout their cycle instead of only 1-2 weeks before menstruation.
Determining whether you’re experiencing perimenopause or may be pregnant can be confusing so consult with your OB-GYN right away if you think you might be pregnant.
Menopause: An Overview
Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation. It is the natural end of a woman’s potential childbearing years. At this point, the ovaries no longer function, menstrual periods have stopped, and it is not possible to become pregnant.
According to the National Institute on Aging, on average, women are 51 years of age at natural menopause. However, a woman is considered to have reached menopause after she has missed her menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months.
There is no reliable way to predict menopause age. Women have been known to start menopause as young as 40 and as late as 60 years old. Women who smoke tend to begin menopause a few years sooner than non-smokers.
Menopause can be induced, at any age, by certain surgeries and medical treatments. Chemotherapy, pelvic radiation therapy and surgical removal of the ovaries can lead to the sudden onset of menopause.
What To Expect As Your Body Changes
Beginning in your 30s and 40s, the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries starts to fluctuate. It’s likely you will notice a change in your menstrual cycles. You may begin to skip periods. Flow may be heavier or lighter. Cycles may be shorter or longer in duration. You may have periods less often or more frequently.
Menopause affects each woman differently. Some women reach natural menopause with little or no trouble. Others have severe symptoms that drastically affect their health and lifestyle. The length of time from perimenopause until menopause will also vary from woman to woman.
When menopause begins suddenly as a result of radiation, chemotherapy or surgical removal of the ovaries, the symptoms and adjustments can be more extreme than with naturally occurring menopause.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Numerous signs and symptoms will help you, and your doctor determine if you are entering menopause. Remember, every woman is different. You may experience none, some, or all of these symptoms during perimenopause and menopause.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat that rushes to the face and upper body. Some women have hot flashes several times a day while others only several times a week. A hot flash can last a few seconds or several minutes or longer.
Hot flashes occurring at night are known as night sweats. They may wake you up or make sleep difficult causing you to feel tired and ill-rested the next day. A hot flash can cause temporary red blotches on the chest, back and arms. Both sweating and chills are possible.
Menopause can affect your body’s chemistry in other ways as well. Besides having problems associated with night sweats your normal sleep patterns may be disrupted.
Because of the many changes your body is experiencing, you may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. You may wake up long before your usual time.
Vaginal and Urinary Tract Changes
The lining of the vagina may become thinner, dry, and less elastic as estrogen levels decrease. Vaginal dryness can make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. Vaginal infections may occur more frequently.
The urethra can become dry, inflamed, or irritated causing more frequent urination and an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
Changes In Libido Function
During perimenopause and menopause, the libido may also change, for better or worse. But remember that many factors besides menopause can affect sex drive.
Stress, medications, depression, poor sleep, and relationship problems can all have an immediate impact on your libido.
Menopause Health Risks
Along with menopause comes a greater chance of heart disease (the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. women) and osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). These are areas to be aware of even after other symptoms of menopause have subsided.
Heart health and strong bones are important throughout life, but menopause is the time to get serious about it. Consult your doctor about any lifestyle changes that should be made during menopausal years to maintain a healthy heart.
How Your Doctor Can Help
Your doctor will help you monitor your transition through perimenopause into menopause and beyond. Some women experience only minor changes or discomfort. Others find the menopause years to be quite challenging both physically and mentally.
It is possible that your symptoms will require appropriate treatment to help you navigate your way through menopause more comfortably. Your doctor will work closely with you to find a treatment that will see you through this normal phase of life.
What To Tell Your Doctor About
You know your body better than anyone. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms or have any concerns about your health, contact your doctor right away.
- Much heavier than normal bleeding during or between menstrual cycles.
- Periods that occur very close together.
- Painful urination or frequent urination.
- Vaginal pain, irritation, itching, or unusual discharge.
- Uncomfortable or painful sexual intercourse.
- Sleep problems that interfere with your ability to function and lead a healthy lifestyle.
- If you think you may be pregnant.
If you are entering menopause, it is important to see your doctor on a regularly scheduled basis, according to their recommendations. Between regular appointments, if you have questions, concerns or experience severe symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Menopause is a new beginning. Use this time to redefine yourself with positive thoughts. Dedicate yourself to a healthier lifestyle and enjoy life. You’ve earned it.