You are a woman in your 40s, you find yourself constantly waking up at night, your periods are erratic, and often involve heavy bleeding and night sweats. Chances are you are experiencing early signs of menopause.
It is normal to experience a range of these symptoms as hormones shift during the weeks, months, or years that lead up to menopause.
But can you differentiate between menopausal transition and actual menopause? The physical symptoms that characterize each? What about effective treatments that can help you manage menopausal symptoms?
This post takes a deeper look at the crux of the matter regarding menopause to help you in this crucial phase of life.
What is Menopause?
Menopause, otherwise referred to as climacteric, is a point in life when a woman has had no menstruation (amenorrhea) for 12 months. This is when the menstrual cycle stops permanents and they are no longer capable of bearing children. This can also be described as the decreased female hormone production by the ovaries.
The first point of interest in this reality is what is referred to as perimenopause, or simply ‘around menopause’ or ‘menopause transition.’ This is the transitional phase where a woman’s body makes a changeover to menopause, designating the end of reproductive years.
Unlike menopause age, there’s no agreed average perimenopause age. This often happens at different ages. You may notice signs of progression towards menopause in your early 40s, but this may also come as early as your mid-30s.
Signs of perimenopause often include menstrual irregularity, sleep difficulty, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, change in cholesterol levels, decreased fertility, vaginal and bladder problems, and mood changes among others.
When Does Menopause Start?
There’s no specific starting point of the menopausal journey, but the average age of menopause is between 49 and 52 years, as estrogen levels decline. Research shows that about 1 in every 100 women may experience menopause before the age of 40.
This occurrence is pathologically known as premature ovarian insufficiency or, in layman’s language, early menopause or premature menopause.
What Are Symptoms of Menopause?
Every woman will have a different combination of symptoms in varying degrees when they hit menopause. However, these symptoms are normally more severe when menopause occurs suddenly or over a shorter transitional time.
Health conditions that may negatively affect the ovaries such as hysterectomy and cancer, or certain life choices such as heavy smoking may increase the severity and duration of menopausal symptoms.
That said, it is reported that there are at least 34 symptoms that menopausal women can experience. Some of these include mood swings, vaginal and bladder issues, tender breasts, headaches, hot flushes, trouble sleeping, night sweats, dry skin, thinning hair, as well as slowed metabolism, and weight gain.
However, amongst these symptoms, the most common and overwhelming indicators include deteriorated vaginal health and bladder control, hot flashes, weight gain, and mood changes.
- Deteriorated Vaginal Health and Bladder Control
Most women during perimenopause and menopause will experience changes in their vaginal health and bladder control. In most cases, the vagina will get drier, making sexual intercourse uncomfortable.
This can also result in other conditions such as bladder and vaginal infections, or even difficulties in holding urine. The loss of bladder control medically referred to as incontinence, may lead to issues such as the constant need to urinate or leaking urine while laughing, sneezing, or exercise.
- Hot Flashes
Menopause hot flashes are also common during the phase of life and can last up to a few years. Hot flashes are normally a sudden feeling of heat in the upper parts of the body, sometimes the entire body. Your neck and face often become flashed.
Other hot flashes symptoms include having red marks on your arms, back, and chest. Cold shivering and heavy sweating may also follow, which is why night sweats in women in their late 40s and early 50s are common.
These symptoms can be mild or severe, lasting between 30 seconds to 10 minutes. They can happen several times in an hour, several times during the day, or just once a week. What causes hot flashes are related to changing estrogen level, creating hormone imbalance.
- Body Changes
During menopause, your body could feel and seem different. This is why menopause weight gain is also a common occurrence. Your waist and hips could feel and look bigger; you can also lose muscle and gain weight.
Your skin could also get dryer, and you can also experience joint and muscle stiffness. Sometimes these physical body changes may not be a result of low estrogen but just signs of aging.
- Mood Swings
Although there’s no scientific evidence as to why this happens, women tend to experience irregular changes in moods during menopause. It’s common to feel moodier and more irritable during this time. It’s thought that bodily changes, tiredness, and stress that this might bring can be possible explanations for mood swings during menopause.
What Causes Menopause?
As suggested previously in this post, menopause is mainly caused by reduced estrogen in women. Some women can also experience menopause as a result of medical procedures such as surgery or treatments such as chemotherapy. On the opposite sex, the decline of testosterone levels and aging can result in men menopause. However, unlike women, not every man can experience this.
Since menopause is a natural occurrence in women, and some men, one can only manage symptoms that may interfere with their daily life. When these symptoms are managed effectively, you can easily transition into the post menopause phase.
One of the best ways of managing menopause symptoms is through hormone replacement therapy (HRT). These are procedures and strategies that help replace low estrogen to boost hormone balance. Implants, gels, skin patches, tablets, or progesterone cream can be used to relieve menopausal symptoms by replacing estrogen during hormone therapy.
Symptoms such as weight gain can be reduced or eliminated through healthy, balanced diets as well as regular exercise. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used to improve mood and lessen anxiety.
Lastly, vaginal estrogen cream can be used to solve vaginal dryness. Moisturizers and lubricants can also serve this purpose. In case your symptoms aren’t improving, your general physician may recommend a visit to a menopause specialist for further analysis and rehabilitation.