Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of the reproductive period of a woman’s life and is indicated by no longer having menstrual cycles. It is diagnosed after 12 months (1 year) of no menstrual period. While menopause can happen anytime in a woman’s 40s or 50s, the average age for American women is around 51.
Menopause comes with several physical symptoms, many of which can be treated but may take a toll on an individual’s energy and emotional wellbeing.
A woman may suspect the approach of menopause on her own as she experiences some menopausal symptoms. A doctor can perform a blood test for estrogen levels to confirm where she is in the menopausal process.
Recognizing The Symptoms Of Menopause
Women in both menopause and perimenopause can experience several signs and symptoms. In the months or years comprising perimenopause, a woman might experience:
Irregular or missed periods
Changes in libido
Bladder control problems
Weight gain and slowed metabolism
Joint and muscle aches
Thinning hair and dry skin
Loss of breast fullness
Symptoms are different for every woman, with some women experiencing extreme symptoms and others experiencing mild to little symptomatic conditions.
Causes Of Menopause
Menopause is a biological process that stems from the natural process of aging. All women are born with a finite number of eggs, which are stored in the ovaries. The ovaries also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone which control menstruation and ovulation. Menopause begins with the cessation of menstruation when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month.
Missing periods before menopause is common and expected, and irregularity in period frequency is natural. Often, a woman may miss one menstrual period and then it will return or skip several months and then start monthly cycles again for a few months. Menstrual periods may happen on shorter cycles making them closer in frequency. Despite the predominance of irregular periods prior to menopause, pregnancy is possible. If you have missed a period but do not know where you are in the menopausal transition, consult a doctor for a pregnancy test.
Menopause is considered a normal part of aging after the age of 40, however, some women can go through menopause early, either as a result of surgery, such as hysterectomy, or damage to the ovaries, such as from chemotherapy. When menopause occurs before 40, regardless of the reason, it is called premature menopause.
Stages Of Menopause
Menopause occurs gradually throughout 3 stages: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
As a woman nears her late 30s, she may experience the first stage of menopause, perimenopause. This stage lasts until menopause, typically taking place over several months or years until the ovaries stop releasing eggs altogether.
The ovaries gradually make less estrogen
The drop in estrogen happens quickly in the last year
A woman may experience menopausal symptoms during this time
The second stage of menopause is menopause itself. This happens when:
It has been 12 months (1 year) since a woman last had a menstrual period
The ovaries have ceased releasing eggs
The ovaries have stopped making most of their estrogen
The last stage of menopause is postmenopause:
The years following menopause
Menopausal symptoms ease for most women
The loss of estrogen begins to increase health risks as a woman ages.
When To See A Doctor About Menopause
Arrange and keep up with regular visits with your doctor during both perimenopause and menopause for health maintenance and any medical concerns. Continue receiving health care through regular visits to your doctor during and after menopause to monitor menopausal changes.
If you suspect that you are going through menopause, you should see a doctor who can perform a specific blood test to find out. It might also be helpful to keep track of your periods as they become irregular to help give your doctor as much information as possible and to rule out other, non-menopause related issues.