Menopause is divided into 3 phases, each of which lasts an indeterminate time in each woman. To add to the confusion, each woman will experience menopause differently.
The 3 phases are perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.
Perimenopause begins years before your last period. Small changes may occur without you noticing, and then you have a hot flash, which is a wake-up call. Menopause is when your period stops completely. When you’ve been a full year without your period, you’ve gone through menopause. On average, menopause occurs around the age of 51, although some go through it earlier and others later. Then postmenopause is everything that happens after menopause, basically the rest of your life.
Here is a list of common symptoms:
One of the first signs that you are entering perimenopause is that your period becomes irregular, or one is missing here and there, sometimes even for a few months at a time. The next thing will be the onset of hot flashes. They may start mildly at first, but menopause takes years to pass and eventually the hot flashes will intensify.
Night sweats go hand in hand with hot flashes. You wake up in the middle of the night and your bedding and nightgown are completely saturated. Some women experience night sweats and no hot flashes, or vice versa, or both or neither; but most likely you have at least one of these symptoms.
Vaginal dryness is another side effect of menopause. The decrease in estrogen levels causes physical changes in the moisture and elasticity of the vaginal walls and a decrease in natural lubrication. Over-the-counter lubricants can substitute for a while, but eventually it will be too painful to continue, making love hurts too much, and avoiding it is easier. Ask your doctor about hormone replacement therapy and if it is right for you.
The lack of sexual desire and loss of intimacy in your marriage can be terrifying. Keeping an open dialogue with your partner and an open mind in the bedroom can help both of you during this time. You may also experience urinary incontinence. The incidence of depression is increasing and may justify seeing a doctor for help.
You can gain weight for no reason; it is a side effect of menopause. Fluctuating hormones are to blame, as are the tough times you’re going through. Keep your eyes on a healthy diet and exercise and it may clear up soon enough.
Insomnia is also a side effect of lower estrogen levels. With everything you have in mind, it’s easy to blame stress, but it’s a side effect of declining estrogen levels. Taking melatonin, starting at the 1mg size, an hour or two before bed can help you fall asleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body when day turns into night. It has no side effects and it is safe. Take the lowest dose and you will wake up refreshed.
Mood swings can take you by surprise. Add in a hot flash and it may seem out of control. Your memory isn’t what it used to be either. You may be concerned, but these are all natural consequences of estrogen withdrawal and very common in menopause.
One of the most debilitating physical symptoms is hair loss, sometimes it seems to be full of brush! This can be scary as your self esteem and confidence get shaken due to constantly falling hair. Your hair loses the thickness and body that you had in your youth. Trying out a new hairstyle can be a life saver here.
Not all of these symptoms may all be present at once, thank goodness, but you can be sure that some will be recognizable. Maintaining a sense of humor at all times helps, and looking on the bright side of everyday events will help you get through this sometimes difficult time in life.