Is it menopause yet?

The lifecycle of a women can be an amazing journey filled with many wonderful and not so wonderful milestones. As a woman nears the end of her childbearing years, one such milestone may be seen as both a curse and a blessing. Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s aging process. It is the end of menstrual cycles and the possibility of becoming pregnant. A woman is in menopause after she does not have menstrual bleeding for one full year. However, menopause does not occur all at once. Most women transition into menopause over a period of several years. This is called perimenopause and it can be a confusing and uncomfortable time for a woman. During this period, they may have symptoms of menopause as well as menstrual cycles. So, how can a woman tell when she’s about to transition into menopause?

“The change of life?”

Often called the “change of life,” menopause and perimenopause can impact a woman’s daily life tremendously. Perimenopause usually starts in the mid- to late 40s and lasts between two and eight years. During this time, the ovaries make different amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone than usual. The ovaries may also not release an egg during some menstrual cycles. As women’s hormone levels change, they may have unexpected menopause symptoms. Irregular menstrual cycles is a common symptom experienced by women in perimenopause. Every woman’s experience is different. Some women may miss periods for months before they start again. Others may have menstrual cycles that come closer together. They may have shorter or longer periods of bleeding. Menstrual bleeding may also be heavier or lighter than before. It is still possible for a women in perimenopause to become pregnant, if she is using birth control, she should continue to do during this time.

The fluctuation in hormones during perimenopause may also cause women to experience hot flashes. Lasting from 30 seconds to several minutes, hot flashes are a sudden feeling of heat in the body. They can cause the face and neck to become flushed and lead to heavy sweating. They can happen occasionally or several times an hour. Hot flashes can be very mild or strong enough to cause sleep disturbances. Hot flashes can be uncomfortable and happen at inconvenient times, which can cause embarrassment and frustration.

Other symptoms of perimenopause may include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Irregular periods
  • Low sex drive
  • Mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Urinary urgency
  • Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Worsening of premenstrual syndrome

What can I do?

There are several options for women experiencing the transition to menopause. Hormone therapies, such as low-dose contraceptives, help regulate periods and have proven effective at alleviating perimenopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Certain antidepressants, epilepsy medicine and blood pressure drugs may also help with these symptoms. Antidepressants may provide a dual benefit for women experiencing mood swings. Topical estrogen creams or gels can provide relief for women with vaginal dryness. There are also several natural remedies that may help a variety of symptoms. Before choosing a treatment option, it is important that a woman have a conversation with her healthcare provider to learn more about perimenopause, her symptoms and possible solutions. Together, they can decide on appropriate treatments to help her face this new milestone in her life in comfort and with confidence.  

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