Menopause


What Is Menopause?

Menopause is a normal part of life, just like puberty. It is the time of your last period, but symptoms can begin several years earlier. Some symptoms of menopause can last for months or years after. Changing levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are two female hormones made in your ovaries, might lead to these symptoms.

This time of change is known as the menopausal transition, but it is also called perimenopause by many women and their doctors. It can begin several years before your last menstrual period. Perimenopause lasts for 1 year after your last period. After a full year without a period, you can say you have been “through menopause.” Postmenopause follows menopause and lasts the rest of your life.

The average age of a woman having her last period, menopause, is 51. But, some women have their last period in their forties, and some have it later in their fifties.

Smoking can lead to early menopause. So can some types of operations. For example, surgery to remove your uterus (called a hysterectomy) will make your periods stop, and that’s menopause. But you might not have menopause symptoms like hot flashes right then because if your ovaries are untouched, they still make hormones. In time, when your ovaries start to make less estrogen, menopause symptoms could start. But, sometimes both ovaries are removed (called an oophorectomy), usually along with your uterus. That’s menopause too. In this case, menopause symptoms can start right away, no matter what age you are, because your body has lost its main supply of estrogen.


What Are the Signs of Menopause?

Women may have different signs or symptoms at menopause. That’s because estrogen is used by many parts of your body. So, as you have less estrogen, you could have various symptoms. Here are the most common changes you might notice at midlife. Some may be part of aging rather than menopause.

Change in your period. This might be what you notice first. Your periods may no longer be regular. They may be shorter or last longer. You might bleed less than usual or more. These are all normal changes, but to make sure there isn’t a problem, see your doctor if:

  • Your periods come very close together
  • You have heavy bleeding
  • You have spotting
  • Your periods last more than a week

Hot flashes. Many women have hot flashes around the time of menopause. They may be related to changing estrogen levels. Hot flashes may last a few years after menopause. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Your face and neck become flushed. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow. Flashes can be very mild or strong enough to wake you from your sleep (called night sweats). Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes.

Problems with your vagina and bladder. Changing estrogen levels can cause your genital area to get drier and thinner. This could make sexual intercourse uncomfortable. Or, you could have more vaginal or urinary infections. Some women find it hard to hold their urine long enough to get to the bathroom. Sometimes urine leaks during exercise, sneezing, coughing, laughing, or running.

Sleep. Around midlife, some women start having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Maybe you can’t fall asleep easily, or you wake too early. Night sweats might wake you up. You might have trouble falling back to sleep if you wake during the night.

Sex. You may find that your feelings about sex are changing. You could be less interested. Or, you could feel freer and sexier after menopause. After 1 full year without a period, you can no longer become pregnant. But remember, you could still be at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea or even HIV/AIDS. You increase your risk for an STD if you are having sex with more than one person or with someone who is having sex with others. If so, make sure your partner uses a condom each time you have sex.

Mood changes. You might find yourself more moody or irritable around the time of menopause. Scientists don’t know why this happens. It’s possible that stress, family changes such as growing children or aging parents, a history of depression, or feeling tired could be causing these mood changes.

Your body seems different. Your waist could get larger. You could lose muscle and gain fat. Your skin could get thinner. You might have memory problems, and your joints and muscles could feel stiff and achy. Are these a result of having less estrogen or just related to growing older? Experts don’t know the answer.

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