What is Menopause?
Menopause signals the end of a woman’s childbearing years. There are three primary processes that the body goes through as a woman’s ovaries gradually stop producing eggs and fertility ends. They include:
- Perimenopause, the period leading up to menopause
- Menopause, signals the end of childbearing
- Post-menopause, the years after menopause
From a medical perspective, a woman’s body stops producing reproductive hormones during menopause. The ovaries stop producing eggs and creating estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, those chemicals known as the sex hormones. All of these changes affect menstruation, or your monthly period, which gradually stops when menopause occurs.
Menopause is a time in a woman’s life that is characterized by a lack of menstrual periods. Menopause isn’t an illness, it’s a perfectly natural progression that a woman’s body undergoes during the aging process.
Is Menopause Different from Perimenopause?
Yes. Medically and physically, there are big differences. If menopause is defined as the cessation of a woman’s period, perimenopause is the buildup toward that cessation, which signals the end of the reproductive years. Perimenopause is the first stage in this process and it could last for as long as 10 years before the ovaries finally stop producing reproductive hormones and eggs.
If the ovaries are surgically removed, menopause can occur suddenly. However, most of the time, perimenopause is a time when the reproductive cycle slowly begins to taper down and eventually stop.
This buildup to menopause can creep up with no symptoms or several. Every woman’s childbearing and hormonal process is different.
What Are the Symptoms of Perimenopause?
Each year approximately 40 to 50 million women in the United States experience hot flashes, which is one of the most common perimenopause symptoms. The length of time for each Perimenopause symptom varies, but generally patients can present with some or all of the following symptoms:
- Breast tenderness
- Changes in sex drive
- Drier skin, mouth, or eyes
- Hair thinning or loss
- Hot flashes, or the sudden feeling of warmth within the body
- Joint pain and muscle aches
- Irregular periods both in frequency and heaviness
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Memory lapses or difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings, such as irritability or depression
- More intense premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Night sweats and temperature fluctuations
- Racing heart or panic attacks
- Urinary urgency, or the need to use the restroom more frequently
- Vaginal dryness that causes discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Weight gain
What Does Menopause Feel Like?
Menopause feels different for each person that goes through it. Menopause officially begins when the last period occurred 12-months ago. At this time, you typically can no longer become pregnant.
As you near this time in your life, the estrogen and progesterone in your body decline more quickly, and just before your last period, this may intensify. You may develop more fat or your weight may distribute around the hips and waist. Skin texture and elasticity may change, as you develop more wrinkles. The body will continue to produce a slight amount of testosterone, the male sex hormone, you may start to grow some hair on the abdomen, chest, chin, or upper lip.
Will I Still Experience Physical Symptoms During Post-Menopause?
You will experience some bodily changes during post-menopause. After age 55 or so, women enter their post-menopausal years, which is a time when your body adjusts to the lower amount of reproductive hormone production. It can be a fulfilling time for women who no longer have to worry about managing a period or having children. You may experience a few of the perimenopausal symptoms you had during this time, such as hot flashes. Your hair and skin may be drier because estrogen in the body stimulates collagen production which smooths the skin. You also may experience vaginal dryness that makes sex painful. Finally, you may experience some issues with your pelvic floor muscles, which could lead to urinary incontinence.
Can I Get Help from a Doctor for Menopause Symptoms?
Yes, you can seek help from your clinical provider. The first step is to diagnose your condition as menopause and to determine where you are in your personal process of change. If you’ve gone 12-months without a period, you may be post-menopausal. After talking with you about your symptoms, your doctor may decide to conduct a blood test that checks your follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels. FSH is a chemical produced by your pituitary gland, a tiny organ near the base of the brain. FSH levels increase when the body is producing eggs, the process known as ovulation. If FSH is low, it may be a confirmation that the woman is firmly in her menopausal cycle and no longer able to reproduce.
However, for many women, a blood test may not be necessary. Talking with your doctor about the types of treatments available will help manage any symptoms you may experience. Some of your options may include:
- Hormone therapy to boost your hormone levels and relieve symptoms
- Non-hormonal therapies such as changing your diet, exercising, or other prescription medications to manage symptoms
The good news about the process leading to menopause is that you are not alone. With the aging of the Baby Boomer population, it’s estimated that 1.2 billion women around the world will experience perimenopause or menopause by 2030. Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life cycle. Talking to the experienced clinical team at Advanced Obstetrics & Gynecology of Lake County, LLC., is the best step you can take to understand the menopausal process and get through this significant point in your life. Contact us today to discuss how we can help.