Menopause can be a stressful and confusing time. There's a lot of information out there about this time in your life, and a lot of it is conflicting. In this article, we'll go over everything you need to know about menopause and its symptoms.
- Menopause usually starts in a woman's early 50s.
- Menopause is preceded by perimenopause, which can start as early as a woman's mid-30s.
- There are a number of symptoms that can present with menopause, including sleep problems, anxiety, weight gain, and osteoporosis.
What is Menopause?
The term menopause refers to the cessation of ovulation and the shutting down of the reproductive system. In order for menopause to be diagnosed, you must have missed at least 12 consecutive periods.
Prior to menopause, the production of hormones are reducing and some of the classic symptoms are starting to appear. This is known as perimenopause, and can start from as early as your mid-30s onwards. Many of the symptoms won’t be noticed until much later.
During perimenopause, you may notice that you miss periods, or that your period stops for several months and then resumes. If you're experiencing this and you're at the right age for perimenopause, talk to your OB/GYN. If you're too young for perimenopause or you suspect you might have something else going on, consult your OB/GYN as well. Many conditions can cause multiple consecutive missed periods, such as PCOS, eating disorders, and excessive stress.
Perimenopause can last from just a few months to several years. Following menopause, women will progress into post-menopause. This is usually marked by a sense of well-being and a feeling of freedom.
When Does Menopause Begin?
A woman can usually expect to experience menopause in her early fifties, with the average age for onset being 52. However, menopause can happen at any time between the ages of 42 and 56. Serious illness, such as cancer, can cause menopause to occur much earlier than this. Despite the fact that half the population will have some menopausal symptoms in their lifetime, there is still a lot of conflicting menopause information around. Menopause will affect every woman in a different way; some will have very few symptoms while others will experience very severe symptoms. The key point to remember is that it is totally natural and that it is just part of a woman’s life. It’s not a disease, and it’s most certainly not something you have to struggle through alone.
What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Many of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, and decreased libido, are well known. Menopausal hormone imbalances can affect many parts of the body, resulting in bone problems like osteoporosis, changes to the skin, bladder control problems, and psychological problems. Some other lesser-known problems that can arise from menopause include hair loss, vaginal dryness, loss of breast fullness, and cardiovascular problems.
As the symptoms differ from person to person, there is no wonder cure for all of the effects of menopause. Hormone replacement therapy was thought be the perfect cure, but over recent years studies have shown that using HRT to treat menopause can increase breast cancer, stroke, and dementia risk. Until all the risks are known, HRT should only be used to treat specific symptoms over a short-term period and only with the full knowledge and agreement of your medical practitioner.
A lot of symptoms are linked to each other, so by treating one symptom you may find that other symptoms disappear. Taking steps to minimize night sweats will allow you to sleep better, which will in turn reduce the fatigue you feel. That can help alleviate much of the anxiety you may be feeling.
Always talk to your doctor before starting a new treatment to manage your symptoms. Some treatments may be more effective than others, or come with certain risks. For example, black cohosh is often touted as a treatment for certain perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. Studies are mixed on its effectiveness, however, with some studies even finding that consumption of this remedy may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Other studies have pushed back against the supposed link between black cohosh and breast cancer. Proceed with caution when considering any treatment that has this much mixed evidence.
Do not take the content of this article as professional medical advice. It's important to exercise due diligence when obtaining relevant information in matters pertaining to your health. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any medical decisions.
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