Menopause is the time in which menstruation ends. Although it is a normal part of life, menopause can bring about some major changes in a woman’s life, ranging from the physical to the emotional. As a woman heads towards menopause, the ovaries produce a decreased amount of estrogen and progesterone, two hormone chemicals that regulate menstruation.
Menopause occurs in two stages: Perimenopause and menopause. Perimenopause precedes menopause and lasts between three to five years. Menopause takes place over the course of years. The period of menopause ends when a woman has missed at least 12 cycles (one year). Keep in mind that you can still get pregnant during this time; therefore, it is wise to continue using birth control until you have reached that one-year mark.
The onset of menopause is different for all women. It has been reported that most women have started menopause by the age of 51. However, there are some women who begin the process between the ages of 40-59. If you are trying to estimate when you will start menopause yourself, use your mom as a guide. Most women begin menopause around the same age as their mom did. If your periods stop before the age of 40, speak with your gynecologist as there may be another reason aside from menopause that is causing you to miss your period.
Women who have undergone surgical removal of both ovaries will go through what is called a “surgical” menopause that will take place at the time of surgery. If only the uterus is removed, then she will stop having periods but will not go through the surgical menopause stage.
What are the Signs of Perimenopause and Menopause?
As mentioned, perimenopause is the period of time that occurs prior to the onset of menopause. Some of the symptoms that may be experienced during this time include the following:
- Irregular periods: As you enter the perimenopause stage, you will notice that your periods may change in terms of flow and duration. There may be some months you miss all together.
- Hot flashes: Almost 75% of women experience the infamous hot flashes. Most women report that this is one of the most difficult parts of perimenopause to get used to.
- Difficulty sleeping: The uncomfortability and randomness of hot flashes seem to be the reason for the development of this common symptom.
- Mood changes: Due to all of the hormonal changes going on inside the body, women tend to experience some sort of change in their mood–whether it is marked by irritability or tears.
- Decreasing fertility: While most women are out of the baby stage by the time they reach their 40s, the possibility of conception during this time of perimenopause still exists. If you do not wish to get pregnant during this time, be sure to use some form of birth control until you have missed at least 12 consecutive periods.
- Vaginal problems: A decrease in estrogen means a decrease in vaginal elasticity resulting in painful intercourse. Additionally, lack of estrogen may leave a women more susceptible to urinary tract infections.
- Bone loss: As the estrogen level decreases, the possibility of bone loss increases. Scheduling a bone density test during this time is vital; as bone density decreases, the risk for developing osteoporosis increases.
- Cholesterol: Cholesterol levels are also affected during this change in a woman’s life. The bad cholesterol tends to increase due in part to decreasing levels of estrogen. Unfortunately, the good cholesterol also decreases, increasing a woman’s risk of heart problems.
The Emotional Part of Menopause
For some women, the emotional part of this journey is more difficult to deal with than the physical aspect. Some of the emotional symptoms a woman may face include sadness, bouts of crying, anxiety, irritability and mood swings. Some of these symptoms may be severe.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy is a man made hormone that is created to ward off the symptoms mentioned above. The therapy may include estrogen alone or estrogen in tandem with progestin, and is effective in eliminating these pesky symptoms. However, hormone replacement therapy is not for everyone. Clinical studies reveals that for some women, the risks may outweigh the benefits when it comes to replacement therapy. Speak with your gynecologist to find out if hormone replacement therapy is right for you.
If hormone replacement therapy is not right for you, there are other medicines that can be used to deal with the above-mentioned symptoms. For example, estrogen cream and certain antidepressants may address the symptoms. Herbal supplements such as black cohash may also be helpful to alleviate certain symptoms.
Perimenopause and menopause are difficult stages in a woman’s life. Between the physical changes, the emotional changes, and not knowing what to expect during this time, menopause will take some getting used to. But as you acclimate yourself to the changes, be sure to talk with friends who may already have experienced “The Change” and can offer you the emotional support you will need during this stage in your life.
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