Most female patients are familiar with the term menopause. The name is almost self-explanator—its textbook definition simply means the stop, or pause, of menstruation, as the name would suggest. Menopause occurs at different times for different patients but typically occurs during the late 40s to early 50s. However, there is a little more to menopause than meets the eye. Read on to learn about the time periods before and after menopause, what to expect, and how to manage symptoms.
Different Types of Menopause
There are different types of menopause when it comes to the time before and after menopause occurs. As menopause itself signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years, the period before (perimenopause) and after (postmenopause) are not without their share of signs and symptoms. If you’re a female patient in your 40s or one who is currently going through menopause, it’s a good idea to know what to expect as your body undergoes changes.
- Perimenopause is also referred to as “menopause transition,” and can occur up to 10 years before menopause actually begins. The most common effect of perimenopause is a drop in estrogen levels, particularly in the two years preceding actual menopause. Women should be careful, however, as this drop in estrogen does not make it impossible to get pregnant. Patients should continue to use birth control practices (unless pregnancy is desired) up until true menopause begins.
- Menopause is the halt of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Once menopause begins, patients cannot get pregnant, as the body is not producing an egg for fertilization. Menopause can be accompanied by some troubling symptoms, which will be discussed in detail below.
- Postmenopause is considered the 10 years that follow menopause. This period of time can bring with it the end to uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flashes, but women should be aware that this time period also puts them at risk for other health conditions, such as osteoporosis, because of the sharp decline in estrogen. During this time, it’s a good idea to stay in close contact with your physician.
How Do I Know if I Might Be Going Through Menopause?
Menopausal symptoms are generally the best way to tell if you might be going through menopause; however, perimenopausal symptoms can often mimic menopause symptoms. The best thing to do if you are unsure is to see your gynecologist. Some early symptoms of perimenopause (which can also be present as symptoms of menopause) include:
- breast tenderness
- irregular periods
- skipping periods
- heavier periods
- severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
If these symptoms are also accompanied by menopausal symptoms, it may be a good sign that you are entering the menopause phase. Menopause symptoms that can affect women’s health include:
- vaginal dryness
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- emotional changes
- dry skin
The best thing to do if you’re experiencing these types of changes, or other symptoms, is to see your doctor so you can get adequate relief. There are effective treatments for menopause, such as hormone therapy.
Those going through any of the three stages of menopause may also experience other types of symptoms, which may not be readily apparent they are linked to menopause. Women should expect some changes at midlife that can affect mental health in a negative light. For example, menopause may also be accompanied by worsening depression or anxiety or sudden insomnia. Low sexual desire may also be an issue. Do not hesitate to bring these issues up with your physician, as he or she is the person in the best position to help you with your overall symptoms—not just apparent gynecological ones.
The most common treatment for menopausal symptoms is hormone therapy, but there are other things that women can do to lessen symptoms. For example, those experiencing hot flashes can avoid hot beverages and spicy foods, which both exacerbate symptoms. Those experiencing vaginal dryness can help combat this problem by using a lubricant, particularly during intercourse. Again, short-term hormone therapy can help this as well as other menopausal symptoms. Those who have painful periods or worsening PMS symptoms during perimenopause can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to help relieve symptoms. However, your physician can also offer more individualized treatment to help combat pain.
If you need more information about menopause or would like to be seen by a physician, request an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today. We offer Care At Every Life Stage, and can see patients at both the Jackson and Madison locations.