The Three Stages of Menopause
Menopause itself is a very definite thing, but you won't know you're there until you're there. Of course, there are all kinds of adventures along the way as you approach that point in time when you actually arrive at menopause. Hot flashes, night sweats, forgetfulness, moodiness, and a rich assortment of other symptoms let you know you are approaching the day when you will be finished with menstruation for good. It actually takes a few years to arrive at that point though, so be patient with yourself and see if you can learn to embrace your life as it changes.
Stage One - Perimenopause
The first stage of menopause is perimenopause. It's that time when hormones revolt and take unto themselves a life of their very own. Since the word perimenopause literally means "around menopause" you know that when the signs start showing up you are likely within ten years of menopause. During this phase, estrogen gradually declines and progesterone production becomes erratic, only available during the actual cycles when an egg is released from the ovary. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is triggered by the low estrogen levels and you end up hot and bothered (we call them hot flashes). These events often begin in the mid-40s for most women, but some experience the symptoms earlier. Often a woman will follow the same pattern her mother had when it comes to menopause.
Oh, Isn't This Fun?
One of the early signs of perimenopause is irregular periods, either missing a period or two, or having heavy periods. The famous hot flashes begin and can be very attention grabbing if they occur several times a day. They morph into night sweats when you go to bed and you will probably be aware of them because sleeping becomes a challenge. Your mood can go from sweet and happy to downright miserable in a nanosecond, headaches can turn into migraines without much effort, and you can't seem to remember where you left your life. Everything shifts. The good news is that with some dietary changes you can actually address most of these symptoms and reduce the need to use HRT or synthetic hormones. Exercise is another great way to deal with the symptoms of perimenopause. Check our site for articles that will give you more information about each symptom.
You Have Arrived!
Then, one day, you arrive. Menopause has happened and the reason you know for sure is that you have not had one single menstrual period in a full twelve months. The ovaries are no longer producing eggs and hormone levels decrease significantly. Along with the hormonal decrease come some new adventures. Vaginal dryness can be a problem that begins in perimenopause and continues on into menopause - when estrogen is no longer keeping vaginal tissue plump and moist. Herbs are available to address this particular symptom and vaginal suppositories are also a good choice. The other prominent symptom of menopause is the decrease in libido. Some of that is linked to the vaginal dryness (it just hurts too much) and some of it is induced by depression which can be significant in menopause. Eating well, making sure you're getting enough omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, and staying active all help to make this period of life easier.
A New Kind of Life
The post-menopausal period can be the best years yet. You have a full third of your life left before you and you don't have to worry about pregnancy, periods, or PMS. How fun is that? Your hormone patterns have changed significantly since the ovaries are no longer producing estrogen or progesterone. However, the estrogen levels don't disappear. They are maintained at about 40% of previous levels through the work of the adrenal glands and fat cells. With the change in hormone patterns certain new prospects come onto the horizon. There may be a propensity to gain fat, especially around the tummy now instead of the hips, and osteoporosis risk rises with the reduction of hormones. Again, with a healthy diet, calcium supplements and plenty of Sunshine (vitamin D), your health during the post-menopausal years can remain excellent.