Spotlighting the Stages of Menopause

a woman who is spotting the stages of menopause in her own body

If you have been having hot flashes or night sweats and suffering from major mood swings, you are probably wondering if you are facing “the change.” Fortunately, the stages of menopause happen more gradually than hitting you like a freight train, though it can certainly seem like menopause has snuck up without your notice…much less your consent.

As you probably know, menopause is a phase of life that all women go through, typically in their late 40s to early 50s as estrogen production decreases and monthly periods stop. Certain cases such as hysterectomy surgeries, however, can shift the natural timeline so that menopause occurs earlier. It is a normal part of aging and marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years.

One, Two, Three…

There are actually three stages of menopause, beginning with perimenopause, which can begin anywhere from eight to ten years before menopause as the ovaries gradually begin to produce less estrogen. Generally, perimenopause begins when a woman reaches her 40s; but some women in their 30s experience it, as well. This first stage lasts until the ovaries completely stop releasing eggs and menstruation ceases completely, and during the last one to two years of perimenopause, estrogen levels drop off significantly.

Some of the common symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • Noticeable tenderness in the breasts
  • Increased intensity of PMS
  • Irregular frequency of periods or missed periods
  • Heavier or lighter periods

The typical length of perimenopause is four years, though it can last as little as a few months for some women. Irregular periods during this stage are normal, though it may be necessary to consult with a physician such as a urogynecologist to rule out other reasons for irregularities.

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Act Two… “Menopause”

When perimenopause ends, menopause begins. This transition is the point in a woman’s life when her ovaries no longer produce high levels of estrogen, and menstrual cycles have stopped for a period of twelve months.

To more readily identify whether you have reached menopause, you will need to recognize the cost common menopause signs, including:

  • Accelerations in heart-rate
  • Aches and pains in joints or muscles
  • Cold flashes
  • Difficulty maintaining mental focus
  • Discomfort during intercourse
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia or changes in sleep
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Night sweats
  • Sudden changes in mood such as depression or irritability
  • Temporary memory lapses
  • Thinning or loss of hair
  • Urgency to urinate
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Weight gain

There are other changes that will occur with menopause, as well. Due to the decrease in the production of estrogen, bones become more brittle, which increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. Estrogen is essential in preserving bone mass, as the hormone signals the bone’s cells to stop breaking bones. In order to treat or prevent osteoporosis in menopausal women, estrogen therapy may be recommended.

Estrogen maintains cholesterol levels in the blood, so as the lack of estrogen no longer keep cholesterol at a safe level, the risk of developing coronary artery disease increases, narrowing or blocking the arteries around the heart and potentially leading to heart attacks. To treat or prevent coronary artery disease, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting proper nutrition and staying active, though hormone therapy or the use of statin medications may be necessary, as well.

The stages of menopause should be discussed with a urogynecology specialist or another women’s healthcare expert, as certain options such as vaginal rejuvenation could potentially ease symptoms including vaginal dryness or painful intercourse.

The Conclusion…”Postmenopause”

The very last of the three stages of menopause is postmenopause, which are the years following menopause, after menstrual cycles have been consistently absent for more than a full year. During this final stage of menopause, a number of the common symptoms of menopause can ease for many women, but postmenopausal women are at an increased risk for several dangerous health conditions including osteoporosis and heart disease.

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Contrary to common misperception, menopause does not have to be the end of life as you know it. Certainly, the changes that occur during this point in your life can be uncomfortable or difficult to deal with, but these can often be managed with simple solutions.

Approach all of the stages of your life with boldness! Call the caring team of women’s healthcare experts at Coyle Institute to schedule a consultation and learn more about the stages of menopause today!