What Every Woman Should Know About Menopause
Menopause brings about the end of the reproductive years for women. While people often use the term menopause to talk about all the changes, there are three distinct phases. Knowing what may happen and what you may experience during menopause can help prepare you for the next phase of your life.
What Is Menopause?
Officially, menopause is the point in time when a woman has gone 12 months without a period. If you have had any bleeding, no matter how light, in the preceding 12 months, you haven't yet reached menopause.1
Before reaching menopause, many people experience a range of changes and symptoms. The period leading up to menopause is perimenopause, which means "around menopause." After you've gone 12 full months without spotting or bleeding, you're postmenopausal.
Perimenopause vs. Menopause
Being perimenopausal isn't the same thing as being menopausal. When you're in perimenopause, you're still getting periods. You may notice that your periods are different from before, though. They may become irregular or become lighter or heavier than before.
Perimenopause starts at different ages in different people. Some might start the transition to menopause in their early to mid-forties. Others might enter perimenopause in their late forties. Many women experience perimenopause for about four years.2 The duration varies, with some people experiencing symptoms for up to 14 years.1
Just as everyone responds differently to menstruation and pregnancy, everyone in perimenopause responds slightly differently to the transition. You may have very mild symptoms, or your symptoms might be severe enough to interfere with your life. A few of the most common symptoms of perimenopause include:
● Hot flashes
● Night sweats
● Vaginal dryness
● Increased need to urinate
● Mood swings
● Period changes
● Dry skin and eyes
● Loss of interest in sex
● Trouble concentrating and memory issues
● Loss of muscle and increased fat, especially around the waist
Birth Control During Perimenopause
In the time leading up to menopause, it's still possible to get pregnant. You may be ovulating less frequently than before, but there's always the chance that you will release an egg during any given cycle. For that reason, it's usually recommended that you remain on birth control if you're sexually active and have a pregnancy risk.
Your birth control options include the pill, ring, implants, or an intrauterine device. Talk to your OBGYN to learn more about your options and choose the best method.
How to Cope With Menopause
Perimenopause can be uncomfortable, from disrupted sleep to difficulty concentrating and hot flashes. Fortunately, there are several ways to cope with the signs and symptoms of perimenopause.
Some women see their symptoms improve when they change their diet, such as reducing caffeine and eating milder foods. Starting an exercise routine can help reduce insomnia and improve muscle tone.
Hormonal therapies are also available to help women cope with the transition to menopause. Hormonal therapies help compensate for the body's decreased production of estrogen and progesterone.
Your health and family history determine whether you're a good candidate for hormone therapy. Your provider can help you weigh the benefits and potential risks of using hormones during the menopause transition.
What Happens After Menopause?
Once you haven't had a period for 12 months, you're in menopause. The average for menopause is 52,2 but you may reach it earlier or later.
One way to get an idea of when you might hit menopause is to ask your mother when she experienced it. Smoking and never being pregnant can cause you to go through menopause earlier.
You may continue to have symptoms after menopause, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Since your body produces considerably less estrogen after menopause, you have an elevated risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
Eating a healthy diet and keeping up an exercise routine can help protect your heart and bones. Hormone replacement therapy is an option to help you cope with ongoing symptoms. Your medical provider can offer more guidance to help you stay healthy after menopause.
1. What Is Menopause?, National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause
2. Menopause Basics, Office on Women's Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics