Menopause 101Apr 02, 2023
If you are like me you probably have a sense that menopause is a time in a women’s life when her hormones and body changes. And despite having years of education in the medical field, I still was a bit foggy on the specifics. It really seemed like something that happened to older women, certainly not someone in their 40s! And shouldn’t it just be a year or two and then you are through it?
I was so focused on my family and career that I didn’t really take time to investigate why my health seemed to be constantly circling the drain! I mean I had been experiencing hot flashes in some form since my late 30s. Previously I really never had an issue with weight gain and all of a sudden I couldn’t lose a pound, despite focusing on my diet and increasing my workouts. And I just thought I was always so exhausted because of the constant go, go , go that was my life.
If you are like me you may find yourself frustrated at the changes that your body in going through. Perhaps you want to learn more before you reach the stage where you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. I get it and I’m here to try and help make sense of it all.
Let’s start with some definitions and an overview of the basics.
What exactly is menopause?
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. It is a stage in life that every woman experiences, and it typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. However it is important to note that this can vary widely, starting as early as late 30s and not ending until late 50s.
Menopause is considered to have occurred when a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. However, the time leading up to the 12 months can take severals years and a woman may experience the effects of hormones changes for years. The three stages of menopause include:
- Perimenopause: This is the stage before menopause, during which hormone levels begin to fluctuate, and women may experience irregular periods and symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and increased fatigue. Perimenopause can last several years, and women generally continue to ovulate during this time.
- Menopause: Menopause occurs when a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Hormone levels have declined, and women may continue to experience symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
- Postmenopause: Postmenopause begins after menopause and lasts for the rest of a woman's life. Hormone levels remain low. Some women continue to experience hot flashes, insomnia and night sweats, although these symptoms may begin to improve for many women. Due to the low hormone levels, women may experience symptoms such as vaginal dryness and an increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
The main hormone changes that occur during menopause involve a decline in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels. These hormones play a vital role in regulating the menstrual cycle, maintaining bone density, muscle mass and keeping the vagina healthy and lubricated. As estrogen and progesterone levels decline, women may experience a range of symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of menopause can vary from woman to woman, and some women may experience no symptoms at all. However, common signs and symptoms of menopause include:
- Irregular periods: As estrogen and progesterone levels decline, the menstrual cycle may become irregular, and periods may become lighter or heavier.
- Hot flashes and night sweats: These are sudden sensations of heat, which can cause flushing of the skin, sweating, and rapid heartbeat. They can occur at any time of the day or night and can last for several minutes.
- Mood changes: Hormonal changes during menopause can cause mood swings, irritability, anxiety and depression.
- Vaginal dryness: A decrease in estrogen levels can cause the vaginal walls to become thin, dry, and less elastic, leading to discomfort during sex.
- Urinary problems: A decrease in estrogen levels can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, leading to urinary incontinence and an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. It is characterized by a decline in estrogen and progesterone levels, which can cause a range of symptoms. The timeline for menopause varies from woman to woman, and the transition to menopause can take several years.
Looking for ways to improve your health during menopause? Find more resources on my blog related to specific symptoms as well as healthy living.
- Shifren, J. L., Gass, M. L., & NAMS Recommendations for Clinical Care of Midlife Women Working Group. (2014). The North American Menopause Society recommendations for clinical care of midlife women. Menopause, 21(10), 1038-1062.
- Dennerstein, L., Dudley, E. C., Hopper, J. L., Guthrie, J. R., & Burger, H. G. (2000). A prospective population-based study of menopausal symptoms. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 96(3), 351-358.
- Burger, H. G., & Hale, G. E. (2005). Dennerstein and Dudley's model of menopausal symptoms: a review of the postmenopausal cohort. Menopause, 12(6), 689-699.
Want to learn how to reduce hot flashes by balancing your hormones naturally? Get my free guide.
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