Are we having fun yet?
Menopause is technically defined as the absence of spontaneous menstrual cycles for 12 months. When it occurs naturally (as opposed to as a result from surgery or illness), it is usually around age 50 or 51—but can range from as early as age 45 to as late as 55.
Perimenopause—what most people think of as ‘the change’ or transition—can start as early as eight to 10 years before your period actually stops (doesn’t seem fair, we know). During this time, your ovaries gradually produce less estrogen until one to two years before menopause, when the drop in estrogen is more sudden. This is the time when many people experience the most severe symptoms of menopause. Hormone levels can swing more widely during this time, causing (sometimes dramatic) fluctuations in mood and energy, along with hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and vulvar changes, difficulty concentrating, changes in libido and headaches. Ready for this? Until your period actually stops all together you can still get pregnant—so birth control continues to be important. And, even once your period is completely gone (yes! Yes! YES!) other symptoms can continue as your hormone production continues to decline.
Once your ovaries stop releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen—sometimes it takes years—you may begin to notice additional effects of menopause, such as changes in skin tone and texture, where you carry weight and the ability to manage your weight—as well as changes in your bone mass and strength. If you experience bleeding after your periods have stopped for a year, call us right away so we can evaluate this abnormal bleeding.
OK. So that is a lot of information and some of it doesn’t sound that fun. But remember, for the majority of people, symptoms of this transition are mild and manageable and there is a percentage who will experience no symptoms whatsoever. And, for those who experience symptoms that are dramatic and impact their quality of life, there are treatments and therapies that are known to help.