Have you been feeling those hot flashes lately? Are mood swings getting you down? If so, than you may be entering into a special stage of life, known as menopause. Though most women talk about menopause as if it were a curse, it can actually be a very enjoyable time of life for many women. True, there are a number of symptoms of menopause that can sometimes be uncomfortable, but these symptoms can often be reduced using a number of different menopause treatments. To help you deal with your menopause, find out more about the stages of menopause and treatments that may help you through the tough times.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is the term given to the stage of life during which a woman no longer gets her menstrual period. Until menopause occurs, women release an egg from their ovaries each month. This egg can then be fertilized by a man's sperm in order to produce an embryo. There are only a finite number of eggs available for fertilization in a woman's ovaries however. When these eggs begin to decline in number, a woman's body begins producing less and less estrogen and progesterone. As a result, ovulation and menstruation become irregular, and eventually stop altogether. Often referred to as "the Curse" by women in previous decades, menopause is now being acknowledged as a time of positive change and freedom of choice.
When does Menopause Occur?
Menopause typically occurs around age 50 or 51. However, menopause can occur at different times in different women. Many women experience the beginning stages of menopause by the age of 35, while others do not experience menopause until as late as age 60. If menopause occurs before age 40, it is frequently referred to as premature menopause. Premature menopause is often the result of premature ovarian failure or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
For most women, menopause is a gradual change. However, it can occur suddenly in some cases. Known as surgical menopause, this type of menopause occurs after a hysterectomy, removal of the ovaries, or following chemotherapy or radiation treatment. With this type of menopause, menopause symptoms typically onset rapidly.
The Stages of Menopause
Menopause typically occurs in three stages. These three stages can span a time period of up to 15 years:
- Perimenopause: Perimenopause is typically the first stage of menopause, and can last up to five years. During peri menopause, menstrual periods and ovulation become irregular, as hormone levels begin to fluctuate. It is still possible for some women to become pregnant during perimenopause, however this is less likely. You will also begin to notice some of the signs of menopause during this stage.
- Menopause: When your periods completely stop, you have entered into actual menopause. Real menopause occurs only after your periods have been absent for 12 consecutive months. Symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and weight gain continue during this time.
- Postmenopause: Postmenopause occurs in the years after menopause has set in. During this time, menopause symptoms begin to decrease, but your risk of certain diseases, including osteoporosis and heart disease, increases.
Menopause is often accompanied by a wide range of different symptoms. These symptoms occur as a result in a shift in your estrogen and progesterone levels. Signs of menopause may include:
- hot flashes
- mood swings
- vaginal dryness
- change in sex drive
Though unpleasant, these symptoms can be managed with specific treatments and self care.
Hormone Replacement Therapy and Menopause
Many women are now looking to hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for help when it comes to managing their menopause symptoms. HRT works to replace those hormones that your body stops producing during menopause. HRT is currently used by more than ten million women throughout the United States.
The majority of HRT users receive supplemental estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is typically taken on a daily basis, while progesterone is taken less regularly. As a result of these hormones, the body is less likely to experience many of the symptoms associated with menopause, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. Many women also find that hormone supplements improve the appearance of their skin and help to prevent serious complications of menopause, including osteoporosis.
It was recently discovered that long-term use of HRT can increase your risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and dementia. But researchers now conclude that short-term use of HRT poses no significant risk to women and can be very helpful when it comes to getting menopause relief.
For more information about pre-menopause, check out our menopause forum.