Have you been having hot flashes or difficulty sleeping? How about unexpected weight gain, unusual anxiety, or unfamiliar hair loss? Depending on your age, you could be gearing up to go through menopause. Even though every woman will go through this process at some point in her life, menopause is seldom discussed in the public sphere. This is unfortunate because it leaves many women unaware of what to expect and unsure about any possible treatment options.
Here at MOGA, we know that menopause affects every woman differently, but there is one common denominator: it changes things. It can be explained easily enough—the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone, the menstrual cycle slows and eventually stop completely—but it can lead to physical, emotional, and mental changes, too. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from menopause, including symptoms, treatment options, and how you can handle the transition as smoothly as possible! Keep reading below for more information.
When can you expect menopause to happen?
Menopause will typically begin about a year after a woman’s last menstrual cycle, although her cycles may be irregular for several years before they cease completely. There are many factors that can affect the age a woman will go into menopause, but the most significant of these is genetics. Menopause has a strong genetic link, which means the age your mother experienced natural menopause will give you some insight into when you can expect your own. In general, most women in North America will experience natural menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, with an average age of 51.
Premature and early menopause can occur in some women. Menopause is considered premature if it happens before a woman is 40, and early if she is younger than 45. We see this in about 1% and 5% of women, respectively. Premature and early menopause can be spontaneous, or they may be caused by a medical condition or lifestyle choice. Risk factors for premature or early menopause include:
- having the ovaries removed
- having the uterus removed
- having chemotherapy or radiation
- a family history of menopause at an early age
- certain medical conditions (chromosomal abnormalities, autoimmune diseases, HIV and AIDS, etc)
The age you were at the onset of your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the use of hormonal birth control doesn’t appear to determine when you will begin menopause, although some new research indicates that pregnancy and breastfeeding may lower the risk of early menopause. One of the best ways to predict your own menopause is to track your menstrual cycle and keep an eye out for any potential symptoms. These may include any of the following.
- irregular periods
- loss of libido
- mood swings
- hair loss or thinning hair
- hot flashes
- racing heart
- dizziness or vertigo
- vaginal dryness or soreness
- painful sex
- trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep
- difficulty concentrating
- memory lapses
- brain fog
- weight gain/bloating
- brittle nails
- changes to body odor
- breast pain
- joint or muscle pain and tension
- digestive issues
Menopause symptoms can vary by both type and severity. While some women may have very few noticeable symptoms, others will experience life-altering changes.
The stages of menopause
Menopause doesn’t happen all at once. It takes some time for your ovaries to slow down then stop producing the estrogen and progesterone that controls your menstrual cycle. There are generally three stages of menopause, as outlined below.
Perimenopause—This kicks in when your estrogen and hormone levels begin dropping, usually about 3-5 years before menopause. Most women will enter perimenopause in their late 40s and may experience symptoms like
- irregular periods
- hot flashes
- sleep disturbances
- night sweats
- elevated heart rate
- mood swings
- anxiety or depression
- vaginal dryness
- discomfort during sexual intercourse
- urinary complications
Although pregnancy is still possible during perimenopause, fertility declines and the chances of conceiving are reduced. If you wish to avoid becoming pregnant during this time, you should seek out or continue to use effective birth control.
Menopause—Once you’ve missed your period for a full year without any other causes, such as illness, medication, pregnancy, or breastfeeding, you have hit menopause. The total transition to menopause can take 1-3 years on average but may last for a shorter or longer period of time for some women.
Postmenopause—This stage begins one year after your last menstrual cycle has passed. During this period, you may still experience certain symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia, among others.
Coping with menopause
Because menopause is a biological function rather than a disease or disorder, there is no way to prevent it. There are, however, many ways to successfully relieve the symptoms of it! Making positive lifestyle changes can be a great place to start. Kicking unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking will be beneficial to your entire body, and a varied diet of healthy foods can have a positive effect on your physical and mental health. Cutting back on foods that are known to trigger or worsen hot flashes and night sweats can help keep you cool, too! These include stimulants like coffee and alcohol, as well as chocolate and spicy foods.
Women experiencing severe menopause symptoms may need more help than what lifestyle changes can provide. There are several classes of medication that can ease many menopause symptoms, but the most effective treatment is hormone replacement therapy. For example, our supplemental estrogen hormone therapy can be especially effective at treating extreme cases of menopausal hot flashes! An increased estrogen level also helps protect you against the bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
Some hormone treatments contain both estrogen and progesterone. This may be referred to as combination hormone therapy (HT) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and can help lessen vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. There are some risks of breast cancer and cardiovascular complications associated with long-term hormone therapy, but the benefits outweigh the risks for many women having a difficult time with intense menopause symptoms. If you’re interested in hormone replacement therapy, you should make an appointment to discuss options with your MOGA physician.
Find the relief you need with MOGA
Menopause may be a natural progression in a woman’s life, but those who suffer severe symptoms of it may feel anything but natural! Lower levels of estrogen can wreak havoc on many of your body’s systems, but our expert team can help you find the right balance of hormone replacement to neutralize the worst of these transitional effects.
As the largest private women’s health practice in the Mid-South, Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Association, P.C. has been providing superior service to our patients for over 30 years. With dozens of doctors and nurse practitioners available in Memphis, Germantown, Bartlett, and Southaven, we make it easy for you to get the personalized care you need throughout your life. You can make an appointment with us by calling our office or schedule one online through our website.