Since we never learned about it in health class, here’s a quick primer about what to expect when you’re expecting menopause.
What is menopause?
Natural menopause marks the end of our menstrual cycle. When you go 12 consecutive months without your period, you're officially in menopause.
Ovarian follicles are depleted in perimenopause and ovulation waxes and wanes in that time period. By menopause you have exhausted your follicles that could be ovulated. That means no ovulation and then no period.
When does menopause start?We can go through menopause at different times but the average age is 51. That said, for some women, menopause may as early as 45 or even younger. Some women go through menopause later, at around 55 or in some cases older.
Older women who experience the start of menopause past 55 age group are considered to have late-onset menopause. Some women will enter go through menopause before the age of 40. This is called early menopause.
Some women experience early menopause naturally, but generally, early menopause usually occurs in women who have undergone surgeries to remove the ovaries. Surgeries that remove the uterus are called hysterectomies.
How long does menopause last?
The entire menopausal transition (and the hallmark symptoms associated with it) can last anywhere from 2 to 4 years. Again, menopause is milestone of one year or 12 months with no period. After that you’re post-menopausal for the rest of your life.
The good news is that as we get older, our menopausal symptoms begin to dissipate.
What are the most common signs and symptoms of menopause?
Menopause symptoms can be both physical and emotional. Here are the most common symptoms of both perimenopause and menopause.
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness/atrophy
- Night sweats
- Insomnia and sleeplessness
- Decreased sex drive/low libido
- Weight gain
- Brain fog
- Dry, itchy, and sensitive skin
- Mood changes (depression, rage)
- Breast Tenderness/Swelling
While many women experience a few of the common symptoms, some women may experience symptoms that are lesser-known or considered less common than the average list of symptoms.
Lesser-known symptoms of menopause include:
- Irregular heartbeat/arrhythmia
- Joint pain
- Muscle tension
- Tingling extremities
- Urinary incontinence
- Painful sex
Menopause relief: How can I reduce my symptoms now?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential to supporting menopausal symptom relief. Changing diet and exercise levels is the first step in helping support menopausal health and overall health. The way we eat and move our bodies can help us take control over many of these symptoms.
Talking about it helps. If you’re experiencing unpleasant symptoms, speaking to your trusted friends or to a therapist is a good idea.
When should I talk to my doctor about menopause symptoms?
If you’re unsure of your menopause status or your life is being impacted by menopause symptoms it’s a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider, who can prescribe the best treatment for you or determine if they’re being caused by other health issues.
Again, if you’re suffering from mood symptoms or you’re struggling with any and all the changes that come in midlife, it’s okay to seek professional help from a therapist. You should never keep quiet or feel like you’re suffering in silence.
Should I dread menopause?
It's better to know than to dread. There are upsides, the main one being that you can't get pregnant anymore, which is a huge relief for many of us. And goodbye to you, PMS.
The best thing to do is to be prepared for what may come. Your menopause may be smooth sailing or it may run into choppy waters. Now is the time to stop whispering about menopause is to kick the taboos to the curb and talk about it, the earlier the better.
Menopause is part of midlife but your midlife is a lot more than just menopause.