What is Menopause?
Menopause is the permanent end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, meaning the end of her fertility. It is a natural biological process and not a medical illness, but menopause symptoms can still cause severe physical and emotional distress.
For most women menopause does not happen overnight, but is a process that can take many years. You are not technically considered to have reached menopause until 12 months after your last period. In the US the average age for reaching menopause is 51, and menopause is only considered premature if it occurs before the age of 40, which is often due to medical intervention such as a hysterectomy or chemotherapy.
There are two stages of menopause; perimenopause when you begin experiencing menopause symptoms but you are still having periods, and postmenopause when you have not had a period for a whole year, and your ovaries are no longer producing eggs. The perimenopause phase can last four to five years, or even longer, and during this time many women experience dramatic menopause symptoms as their hormone levels rise and fall.
What Causes Menopause Symptoms?
Menopause symptoms begin to appear as a woman ages and the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone decreases in her ovaries. This process often begins in the late thirties, where a decrease in hormone levels will reduce fertility and make ovulation and menstruation less regular.
As the process progresses, usually during the forties, periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and increasingly less regular. Very few women have a regular monthly period right up until they stop altogether; most find that their periods become less and less frequent and gradually taper off altogether.
Physical Menopause Symptoms
Although menopause is not a medical illness but a natural process, you should still see your doctor if you are experiencing severe menopause symptoms. They may recommend initial lifestyle changes, moving onto hormone replacement therapy if these are not sufficient.
It may be helpful to see your doctor to confirm that you are experiencing menopause, even if you only have mild menopause symptoms. They can run a blood test to check your follicle stimulating hormone count, which rises dramatically as your ovaries begin to cease functioning. By consulting your doctor early on, they can help you determine how to prevent common post menopausal health problems such as osteoporosis.
Menopause Symptoms might include:
Gaining weight around the stomach
Sagging of the breasts
Emotional Menopause Symptoms
Undoubtedly mood swings that are experienced during both stages of the menopause can be put down to the hormonal changes your body is going through. However, a lot of common emotional menopause symptoms can also be blamed on mistaken perceptions of menopause.
Some people feel like menopause marks ‘the end’, but this is far from the case. At the onset of menopause, most women have almost half their life still to live. There is also a belief that going through the menopause will make you less of a woman, and will decrease your femininity and sexuality.
This is not necessarily the case as many women find it positively liberating not to have to worry about pregnancy and periods anymore.
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