Menopause and menopause symptoms are an eventuality for all women. This biological inevitability is something every woman will go through at some point. And yet there are still many women who don’t know what it is, recognize the symptoms, or know how to tell if they're starting menopause.
More importantly, if you are going through menopause and are experiencing severe symptoms, there is help available and a variety of medical treatments that can help you manage menopause symptoms. For any woman who is over 30 years old, or who has friends or family members who are, here's everything you need to know about menopause, and how to determine if the symptoms you're experiencing are menopausal.
Menopause: What You Need to Know
Menopause is a phase in a woman’s life. Every woman goes through it eventually when her body reaches a time when it’s no longer ready to bear children. In biological terms, menopause means your body stops producing reproductive hormones; in medical terms, menopause means your menstrual cycle has stopped.
Common Menopause Signs & Symptoms
Physical symptoms: Menopause has a number of symptoms, and they are mostly caused by the dropping estrogen and changing hormone levels in your body. The most common and noticeable symptoms include:
- Irregular or infrequent periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Breasts losing their fullness
- Loss of sex drive
- Sleep disruptions
- Mood changes
- Slowing metabolism
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
Age: Typically, menopause starts when a woman is in her late 40s or early 50s, and the average age is 51. However, premature menopause does exist and has been documented in women in their 30s. Premature menopause often has an underlying medical condition, such as primary ovary insufficiency, chemo or radiation therapy, or a hysterectomy.
The Three Phases of Menopause
Perimenopause: The first stage of menopause is perimenopause, which generally starts a few years before menopause. This is the time when you'll begin experiencing symptoms, and this phase lasts an average of four years. Some women only experience perimenopause for a few months. It's typical for most women to start experiencing symptoms in their 40s.
Menopause: Menopause is diagnosed once you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without menstruating. After this point, it’s no longer possible for you to become pregnant.
Postmenopause: This is the final phase of menopause and technically lasts the rest of your life. Symptoms will begin to subside as your body adjusts to the different hormone levels. Because of your reduced estrogen levels, you will be at an increased risk of postmenopausal medical conditions, such as heart disease, bone weakness, and osteoporosis.
Menopause symptoms can be severe and impact your day-to-day life. If you're experiencing symptoms and need some relief, talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner about what you're feeling. Depending on what you're experiencing, possible treatments may include antidepressants, sleep medication, hormone therapy, and vaginal estrogen.
If you think you’re experiencing the first symptoms of menopause, make an appointment with your doctor. It’s just as important to get regular checkups now as it was before, and it’s especially important to start keeping an eye on the symptoms of postmenopausal medical conditions. You can also get started by learning more about women’s health issues, including how to be your healthiest self, eating right, staying active, and knowing what to expect from your body during different phases in your life.