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Perimenopause, menopause and women’s health

Perimenopause, menopause and women’s health

shingles vaccine; women of menopause age

“The Change” has long been the unofficial title of the stage in a woman’s life when her menstrual cycle ends and her hormones, well, change. Menopause, the official title of this season of life, is actually the end of the change, marked by 12-months of no menstrual cycle. The full cycle of change in a woman’s body may take as long as ten years or as little as a few months. Caring for your health during these changes is as important as caring for your health during your child-bearing years.

Perimenopause

Before a woman’s menstrual cycles end her hormone levels begin to decrease. She continues to have her period during this time although it may be irregular. Fertility may decrease for some women but they can still become pregnant.

For most women, perimenopause happens in their 40s, but it can begin earlier. The average length of this season of life is four months but, because every woman is different, some women may experience perimenopause for up to ten years while others rush through it in a matter of months.

During the last two years of perimenopause, a woman’s hormones drop more quickly moving her toward the end of her cycle and menopause. Women will experience the symptoms associated with menopause during this time.

During perimenopause most people will experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Hot flashes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Worse premenstrual syndrome
  • Lower sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
  • Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
  • Urinary urgency (an urgent need to urinate more frequently)
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping

Menopause

When a woman has not had a menstrual cycle in twelve consecutive months she’s considered to be in menopause. Her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and her production of estrogen has decreased significantly. Most women experience menopause (and all the symptoms that go with it) in their mid-late forties or fifties.

Premature menopause describes menopause that occurs before the age of 40 even if the cause is surgery induced through a hysterectomy or by damage to the ovaries. Women who have surgically induced menopause will not go through perimenopause.

While hot flashes are the hallmark symptoms of menopause, women often experience an array of symptoms linked to the decrease in hormones including:

  • Irregular or skipped periods
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Changes in libido (sex drive)
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bladder control problems

Postmenopause

When the hot flashes have eased and you’ve grown more accustomed to your body’s new hormone levels, you’ve entered postmenopause. Due both to the changes in hormones and age, women in postmenopause are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, vision problems, bladder and bowl problems, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Treatment

Menopause is a natural part of life and certain symptoms are common during these stages. However, women can take steps to care for their bodies and reduce the symptoms. Exercise, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight all contribute to your body’s overall wellbeing, especially during this stage.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of menopause or perimenopause schedule an appointment with your provider. Some normal symptoms of menopause may actually be symptoms of other illnesses that need to be treated. And if you’ve entered “The Change” your provider may be able to suggest treatment options to reduce your symptoms and lower your risk of chronic disease.


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