Menopause 101

Natural Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s life, usually happening somewhere around age fifty, give or take a few years. Just like menstruation, pregnancy or childbirth, every woman is different, and the age at which these changes take place can vary greatly.

Menopause begins a new phase in life, when the ovaries cease to produce eggs and a woman’s period ends for approximately a full year. This happens over a gradual period of time that is referred to as a perimenopausal transition. This transition period can start when a woman is in her 40’s and can last several years.

Not every woman will go through menopause "naturally" due to surgery or other health conditions, and in these cases the onset of symptoms may be more sudden and severe.

Statistics seem to vary a bit, but they say (whoever "they" are) that approximately one-third of American women will go through menopause without any significant symptoms, about another one-third will have mild symptomatic experiences, and another one-third will experience more intense symptoms. Hot flashes of various intensities occur in about 75% of women in perimenopause.

Menopausal symptoms, which may occur in varying degrees include irregular periods, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, mood changes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, various urinary symptoms like a urinary tract infection, foggy-memory  and emotional symptoms, skin changes and weight gain.

There are actually a lot of positive aspects to this time of life. Doing a little homework and learning what to expect, it can be a start to the best years of your life!  There are many ways to drastically reduce some of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause naturally, before considering hormone replacement therapy. Knowledge is definitely power as far as this goes – it can cut out a lot of needless worry.

There are tons of great resources out there to learn from, especially online! This is the time to have a good doctor on your side, and personally speaking, his can be the biggest challenge.

Here are some of the symptoms you may experience in perimenopause:

Changes in periods -

One of the first signs may be a change in the normal period cycle. It may become unpredictable and irregular, the flow may be lighter (or heavier) than usual, and it may be shorter (or longer). Just like the changes in the flow, you may experience changes in cramping, either for the better, or worse. Some women may experience spotting between periods and periods may come less than three weeks apart.

Hot flashes –

Your face and neck become hot or flushed, and red blotches may appear on your chest and arms. This may also be accompanied by heavy sweating, followed by cold chills. The hot flashes can come in varying degrees from very mild to severe enough to wake you from a sound sleep. They can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

Insomnia –

Those hot flashes can be the cause of some sleep problems – trouble getting back to sleep. A good night’s sleep may be hard to come by for some women from time to time. Ways to relax and get back to sleep may be the key to solving this one.

Mood changes –

Changes in estrogen levels may have an effect on a woman’s mood, though other factors such as stress, family changes or just being plain tired can play a part in these changes. Keep in mind though, that depression is not a symptom of menopause.

Loss of sex drive –

Some women may have difficulties when it comes to sex, due changes in estrogen levels that can cause vaginal dryness, which may make sexual intercourse painful. The good news is that there are easy ways to solve this problem.

Urinary Problems –

Some women have more urinary tract infections, while others may have a hard time holding their urine long enough to get to the bathroom. Coughing, exercising, laughing, or even sneezing can send some running to the bathroom.

The manner in which these symptoms are treated usually have something to do with the severity. Some women will seek medical treatment in the form of hormone therapy, while others may choose to use alternative treatments.

Menopause Terms

Here are some quick summaries of the terms used for various phases of menopause:

Premenopause – (comes before perimenopause) This term basically refers to the period a few years before the onset of menopause symptoms. It could also be used for a woman in her 20s – technically.

Perimenopause - Usually begins several years before menopause. It commonly occurs during your 40s but it can also happen during the mid to late 30s.

Premature menopause – Someone who is menopausal before age 40, may be considered as having premature menopause. Depending on where you live in the world the reference point (median age) may be slightly different.

Induced menopause – This is a term used when someone has had surgery to remove both ovaries, which would cause the cessation of periods (whether or not there has been a hysterectomy).

Natural menopause - When there has been no menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, from normal (not outside) causes.

Post-menopause – All women after menopause, whether it was natural or induced.