Traveling to a new destination without a map or directions can be a little daunting. We’re here to help.
Menopause is the name of one of the best horror stories known to women: citing everything from weight gain and an uncontrollable bladder to hot flashes that feel like lava and mood swings. Without a clear starting or ending mark and the possibility of lasting for years, it’s important to have some sort of navigation for the journey through menopause.
So what is menopause? It’s the natural change in hormones in a woman’s body that signals the end of menstruation and fertility. This requires at least twelve consecutive months without a period, and typically occurs in your 40s or 50s, although some rare cases occur in the 30s and 60s. The average age for women in the U.S. experiencing menopause is 51.
There are four main stages of menopause, so think of traveling across four states. There will be a few pit stops and distractions along the way, but there is a clear destination state you’re aiming for. They are:
Now that you have a rough idea of the route you’ll be taking, let’s talk about what each state has to offer.
Pre-Menopause and Perimenopause
Although these first two states get different names, they can be very similar. While menopause is more than physical symptoms, they may be the first sign you notice regarding the onset of menopause. They can occur months—even years—before the official onset of menopause, known as perimenopause. Some signs you’ll notice on the journey may be:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain or slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair or dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness or increased breast sensitivity
During this short state, it’s important to start preparing yourself for the longer trek ahead. It is possible to get pregnant during pre-menopause and perimenopause, so appropriate measures should be taken. Likewise, it’s important to take pregnancy tests for missed periods to ensure that it isn’t pregnancy instead of perimenopause. Rarely, periods are still regular during pre-menopause, although they should decrease to one every 2 to 4 months during perimenopause.
Once you’ve started perimenopause, it’s important to start visiting your doctor regularly. If you aren’t sure if you have reached the state or not, visit with your doctor: although there isn’t a singular test to tell you whether or not menopause has arrived, there are plenty of signs your doctor may be able to decipher.
Uh-oh, it’s here: that scary mid-wives tale you’ve been dreading. You’re probably thinking of a nightmare state, complete with weight gain, irritability, and lack of sex drive; but what if you’re wrong? As with any health topic, there are a lot of popular myths about menopause. Here are a few to put your mind at ease:
- Weight Gain: We hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no scientific evidence to prove that menopause will make you fat. While it’s true some hormonal changes may make you more susceptible to gaining weight around your abdomen and other body parts, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can blame menopause alone. Like life before menopause, your food and exercise choices influence your weight drastically. If menopause has you craving chocolate, balance it out with an extra walk around the block. Combat this myth by a portion-controlled healthy diet and moderate daily exercise. You don’t have to pour sweat bench-pressing 300 or eat nothing but carrots to keep your good looks: just be smart!
- Physical Symptoms: Physical symptoms are a large part of the menopause puzzle, but they aren’t the only piece: emotional symptoms are present, too. Those mood swings you’ve heard stories about aren’t entirely false: while your hormones are swinging back and forth, your mood is likely to, too. Specifically, estrogen may be to blame: scientists think a decrease in estrogen may be related to brain changes that can lead to depression.
- Sex Drive: There’s an ugly rumor out there that menopause will kill your sex drive, but it isn’t true. That’s right: menopause doesn’t kill the mood. If anything, women often become more comfortable with their body and aware of their own wants and needs. While vaginal dryness is a common symptom, a little lubricant is an easy fix to get you back on track to enjoying your sex life. If you’re hurting yourself by focusing only on the weird things your body is doing, don’t: buy some lingerie, have a day at the spa, and enjoy the woman that’s looking back at you in the mirror. Everyone deserves some healthy, enjoyable sex—regardless of age!
Now that you (hopefully) aren’t worrying as much, let’s consider what you do need to expect: the unexpected. The same signs you’ve been seeing through your journey are likely to continue: right up until menopause officially arrives with your last period for twelve consecutive months. The night sweats, the hot flashes, and the mood swings are only hitching a ride, so don’t panic: they won’t be here for long.
If the traveling so far has been exhausting and full of flat tires and pit stops, then this last leg of the journey is nothing but detours to the beach and a few pit stops at your doctor’s office. Let’s hope you love the feel of wind in your hair, because here it is!
Following your last menstrual period, your menopause symptoms will begin to bail out on the trip. Typically, they’ll be gone completely within a year or two. However, as your body adjusts to lower hormone levels, you’ll need to stay aware of new health risks associated with decreased estrogen and progesterone levels.
Don’t panic: osteoporosis and heart disease, the most common two culprits following post-menopausal women, can be easily watched for and tracked by your doctor. When you get to this point of your health journey, it’s important to meet regularly with your doctor to get acquainted with your new destination.
That wasn’t such a bad trip, was it? Now that you know what to expect in each state, you’ll be better prepared for the journey. While it can seem scary, we’re here to help. For more information, contact us for a consultation!