When you reach your 40?s, chances are you?ll be thinking about menopause and wondering when it will happen. And if you?re well into your 40?s or 50?s, and you believe you are experiencing changes, you?re probably wondering what?s normal.
Perhaps you have started to see changes in your period or even experienced some hormonal swings.
Does this mean that menopause is officially starting? It can be difficult to say.
Here are some key signs and symptoms you?ll want to keep an eye out for and track so that you and your gynecologist can determine if you are reaching menopause.
Most women today start menopause between ages 50 and 52 and start perimenopause at about 47, though women may experience both earlier or later.
Perimenopause begins several years before the full transition to menopause and is essentially the time where women begin to feel the same symptoms of menopause, but not as extreme. Full menopause doesn?t occur until a woman has not menstruated for an entire year.
Libido Changes and Vaginal Dryness
Most changes in your body that come alongside menopause are typically the result of hormonal changes. One noticeable aspect is that you may experience vaginal dryness. If over-the-counter lubricant doesn?t do the trick, some women opt for hormone replacement therapy (which can help with natural lubrication) or prescription creams and gels.
Loss of libido can happen alongside physical symptoms like dryness or even emotional changes like mood swings and depression.
Some women experience bladder problems like incontinence and UTIs as a part of the transition to menopause. There are a few reasons for these reactions and most of which are linked to the fact that the entire pelvic area, as well as internal tissues, will become thinner and weaker as estrogen production drops. The acidity levels in both the bladder and vagina could shift as well, leading to more infections.
Weight Gain and Bloating
Weight gain tends to happen during middle age because of a natural loss of muscle mass. Also, the metabolism tends to naturally slow. For this reason, men and women can expect to gain a bit of weight around this age.
However, weight gain can be more extreme in menopausal women because of dropping estrogen levels, which may affect both your ?hunger? hormones and even insulin resistance. Bloating is likely to come along with menopause because of water retention, constipation, and other digestive changes.
If you?re the kind of woman who has regular periods but all of a sudden it seems to be skipping weeks or months, this could be a sign of menopause.
It?s important not only to look at the timing but also the type of period you are having. If you usually have lighter bleeding patterns, but suddenly they come on heavy (or vice versa), this could signal a transition to perimenopause.
Do bear in mind that it?s still possible to get pregnant well into your 40?s, and that going on or off contraception can also change bleeding patterns.
You have heard of them before and may have even experienced them. They?re not pleasant, and this is especially the case when they sneak up on you in the middle of the night (aka ?night sweats?).
A hot flash comes on suddenly and is overwhelming, leaving you sweaty and uncomfortable, sometimes all over the body and sometimes just in one area. They are unmistakable and are almost always a signal that menopause is coming.
Changes in the Skin, Hair, and Nails
Around the time of menopause, you?ll likely notice your skin, hair, and nails becoming drier and more brittle. You may experience hair loss and thinning, as well as slower hair and nail growth.
Again, this can be linked back to a lack of estrogen production.
Bear in mind that the symptoms above may be similar in the case of various illnesses and even pregnancy. It?s also worth noting that menopause may arrive early for multiple reasons, such as a hysterectomy.
Menopause symptoms can be extremely varied, and it affects some women much more than others. However, preventing uncomfortable symptoms isn?t always possible, and you can take extra steps to minimize discomfort by:
- Having extra moisturizing lotions, lubricant, and shampoos available
- Opting for hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Taking medications or supplements designed to prevent bone loss
- Paying close attention to diet and exercise
- Noticing hot flash triggers and being prepared to deal with them at all times
- Tracking symptoms to report to your gynecologist or doctor
How is Menopause Diagnosed?
In most cases, menopause or perimenopause will be diagnosed based on the description of your symptoms to physician or OBGYN. The more detailed and precise your symptom descriptions are, the better.
For example, if you are having hot flashes and experiencing dry skin, your OBGYN may ask you further questions to ascertain how often and under what conditions you experience these conditions.This information can help your OBGYN determine whether or not you are experiencing menopause.
However, there are some less common instances in which further testing may be required. The most common laboratory diagnostic for menopause is a simple blood draw. In these cases, your blood will be tested for the following:
- Estrogen: Lower levels of estrogen may suggest the onset of perimenopause.
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH): If thyroid hormones are low that may suggest a non-menopause related cause for your symptoms.
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH): If your FSH levels are lower than normal, that might suggest that menopause or perimenopause has begun.
Whether you require additional testing or your menopausal status can be diagnosed from your symptoms alone will vary from individual to individual.
Benefits of Menopause
As we’ve seen, menopause can create a wide variety of changes in the body. But it’s important to remember that not all of these changes are negative. In fact, there are many women who find life after menopause liberating and wonderful. Here are just a few of the possible benefits of menopause:
- Your period goes away: Menopause marks the end of your menstrual cycle. For women who suffer from heavy bleeding or severe cramping in particular, menopause can offer significant relief.
- Your PMS disappears too: As you leave your menstrual cycle behind, so too will your PMS symptoms fade. Because PMS is caused by hormone changes before menstruation (causing headaches, cramps, and other discomforts), menopause ensures you will no longer suffer from PMS.
- Uterine Fibroids become smaller: Uterine fibroids are a specific kind of tissue growth that can cause discomfort and pain. As you experience perimenopause and menopause, your uterine fibroids will become smaller and less uncomfortable.
- Bonding: Perimenopause and menopause can be unique life experiences. This can lead to long lasting bonds with other women who have gone through this particular experience.