For middle-aged women across the world, few terms seem to carry as much weight or anxiety with them as “menopause”. Luckily, menopause is not a forbearer of doom and gloom, but rather a natural and normal step on a woman’s life path. Literally meaning “the end of monthly cycles”, menopause primarily means the end of the fertile phase of a female’s life.
The most common perception of menopause is a sudden, abrupt change in hormones accompanied by acute hot flashes that literally hit you mid-day. While this may be the case in a tiny minority of women, the onset of menopause is typically gradual and occurs over a period of years.
Additionally, menopause is not a sign of something wrong. It is a natural consequence of aging and the reduction of female hormone production by the ovaries. While some side effects may disrupt daily life, they are generally manageable and not permanent.
Because menopause is an inevitable stage for any woman who reaches middle age, it is best if they know what to expect and how to manage the symptoms (if necessary).
Menopause: Signs and Symptoms
While menopause typically occurs between the ages of 42 and 58, certain factors can cause an earlier onset. These factors include cigarette smoking, racial and ethnic factors, high body mass index, chemotherapy, and illnesses. In extremely rare cases, menopause may occur as early as just after puberty.
Menopause is officially declared in women who are not lactating, pregnant, and have an intact uterus when menstruation has not occurred for a full year. This is generally the only universal sign, but there are many others that may preclude menopause or even occur after it.
These symptoms include hot flashes, irregular menstruation prior to its actual cessation, night sweats, forgetfulness, mood changes, vaginal dryness, tenderness of the breasts, and occasionally even osteoporosis and heart disease.
The earliest sign of menopause is usually a variation in the length of the average menstrual cycle. As menopause approaches closer, this variation becomes more pronounced until all menstruation is finally ceased. These variations can be longer periods or shorter periods, significantly heavier or lighter flow, and consecutive “skipped” periods.
These symptoms stop altogether once menopause is actually reached. Other symptoms, such as mood changes and night sweats, can occur for long after menopause is reached.
Other, usually less pronounced symptoms are: migraines, rapid heartbeat, back and joint pain, decreased elasticity of the skin, skin thinning, irregular urination, and an increased risk for osteoporosis. There are many bone supplements that can help reduce the chances or severity of osteoporosis. You should consult your doctor to determine if you are at risk.
Mentally, a woman experiencing menopause may feel depressed, fatigued, or anxious. Abrupt mood changes are quite frequent, as are changes in sexual appetite and enjoyment.
Because most of the changes occurring during menopause are hormone driven, their frequency and severity varies from case to case. Most instances of menopause are manageable or even smooth transitions; others can be intrusive and highly uncomfortable. The best way to prepare is by knowing what to expect in any scenario.