Menopause is a normal condition that all women experience as they age.
The term “menopause” can describe any of the changes a woman goes through either just before or after she stops menstruating, marking the end of her reproductive period. A woman is born with a finite number of eggs, which are stored in the ovaries. Menopause happens when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month and menstruation stops.
Menopause is a gradual process and has three stages:
Perimenopause. This typically begins several years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually make less estrogen. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last 1 to 2 years of perimenopause, the drop in estrogen quickens. At this stage, many women have menopause symptoms.
Menopause. This is the point when it’s been a year since a woman last had her last menstrual period. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and making most of their estrogen.
Postmenopause. These are the years after menopause. During this stage, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes ease for most women. But health risks related to the loss of estrogen rise as the woman ages.
Am I starting Menopause?
Everyone is basically familiar with the concept of menopause. However, in reality it may be difficult, even for the well informed, to understand the various definitions of pre-,peri- and post-menopause and when and how the symptoms may affect you as an individual.
What changes during Menopause?
There are several hormones that change during the menopausal transition. Most people are familiar with the family of hormones called estrogens. There are however, other hormones, including progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, pregnenolone and melatonin that decline at various rates.
As estrogen and progesterone drop to lower levels, your body can respond in several ways:
- Hot flashes, which can make your face red and cause a sudden sensation of body warmth
- Sleep interruption by night sweats or you may not sleep as soundly as you used to
- Vaginal dryness, itching and or pain during sexual intercourse
- Irregular or skipped periods
- Brain “Fog” and headaches
- Mood swings and Depression
- Fatigue or irritability
- Racing heart
- Joint and muscle aches and pains
- Changes in libido (sex drive)
Are there Long-Term Health Problems Tied to Menopause?
The loss of hormones with menopause has been tied to various health problems, but this is not to say that all women’s health deteriorates because of these lower levels. After menopause, women are more likely to have:
- Heart disease
- Memory loss
- Poor skin elasticity (increased wrinkling)
- Poor muscle power and tone
- Some weakening in vision