Menopause is a process that all people who menstruate will go through during her lifetime, and it’s often considered a taboo subject that many people avoid discussing. However, it’s time we open the floor for discussion and start an honest conversation about what really happens during menopause.
In this article, we’ll be exploring some of the key signs and symptoms of menopause, common medical concerns associated with it and potential treatments. Arming yourself with knowledge during this transition period can help you feel more confident and less afraid of the changes happening inside your body.
What is menopause?
Perimenopause is not to be confused with premenopause, during which a woman is still menstruating and is not experiencing any symptoms of menopause or perimenopause at all.
First things first: what exactly is menopause? Menopause occurs when ovaries stop producing eggs. This leads to reduced estrogen levels and prevents pregnancy. During menopause, you’ll stop menstruating entirely, and you may begin experiencing other symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia and more.
However, you may also begin experiencing symptoms before menopause during a period called perimenopause. During perimenopause, you may experience symptoms similar to those during menopause, like hot flashes, mood swings, or changes in your sleep patterns. The main difference between perimenopause and menopause is that menopause only occurs 12 months after your last period. The time (years) before this when periods are infrequent but still occur is perimenopause. It’s worth noting that women should still use contraceptives during perimenopause if they do not wish to become pregnant.
When does menopause start?
The average age for the onset of menopause is 51 in the U.S. However, it can occur anytime between the ages of 45 and 55 or earlier.
Menopause is considered “early menopause” when a woman experiences it before the age of 45. Early menopause can occur by removing the ovaries, chemotherapy, or anything else that may have damaged your ovaries.
What happens during menopause?
As your body stops producing eggs during menopause, your hormone levels will change, which can result in a variety of different physical and emotional symptoms. However, symptoms can vary drastically depending on your genetics, lifestyle choices and other factors. Some women may not experience any symptoms at all.
Most of the symptoms of menopause are harmless but potentially irritating or disruptive to your daily routine. Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include:
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Changes to your sleep patterns
- Loss of breast fullness
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Thinning hair
Learning to navigate a new stage of life and changes to your body can be emotionally draining. You could potentially feel more depressed, irritable or anxious during this time.
Causes and risk factors
Menopause is a normal process that every person who goes through their period with ovaries will experience (unless you’ve had your ovaries removed pre-puberty). It will naturally occur between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can also be brought on earlier by chemotherapy or radiation, having a hysterectomy, autoimmune diseases or other causes.
Menopause may also increase your risk of experiencing other health concerns such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Urinary incontinence
- Thyroid issues
As your body transitions through perimenopause and menopause, it’s important to keep up with regular doctor visits and screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies and thyroid testing. Today, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and men, and menopause can increase your risk of developing it.
In addition to keeping communication lines open with your healthcare team, it’s never too late to implement a new lifestyle regime such as healthier nutrition, an exercise routine or stress management techniques. It’s also important to limit your alcohol intake and quit smoking to prevent heart disease.
Diagnosis and treatments
You’ll typically know you’re experiencing menopause if you haven’t had a period for longer than 12 months. However, if you’re unsure, your doctor can help confirm a diagnosis through blood tests.
While there’s no treatment necessary for menopause, you may want to seek help for relief from your symptoms. In this case, your doctor may recommend:
- Hormone therapy
- Vaginal estrogen
- Osteoporosis medication
Your doctor might recommend estrogen therapy in the form of a pill, gel, skin patch or cream to help balance your hormones and minimize symptoms. Treatment options are available to help relieve hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and any other menopause symptoms you may be experiencing.
Get support for menopause and other mental health concerns
Menopause is a very normal and healthy time of transition. It’s a natural process that requires no treatment, but if you’re experiencing symptoms interfering with your quality of life, it might be time to speak to a practitioner. Room For Her exists to help remove the barriers women face in accessing therapy, including not knowing how to find a therapist, long wait times, and the costs, inconvenience, and time spent travelling to and from traditional in-person therapy.
Try one year of free self-guided digital therapy today.