What is ‘The Change’? Menopause Basics

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Some women joke that they’re having their own “private summer.” Others feel that their once-familiar body, with all its quirks and wonders, is raging against them. Still others confess that for them, things haven’t been all that bad.

No matter how you experience menopause, it marks a significant transition, which is why it’s commonly referred to as “the change of life.” Here are a few basic facts about “the change” that all women need to know.

What Is The Change Menopause Basics - In Content

When Should I Expect to Experience Menopause?

The average age of menopause is 51, but menopause can happen any time from the 30s to the mid-50s or later. Women who smoke and are underweight tend to experience an earlier menopause, while women who are overweight often experience it later. Generally, you can expect to experience menopause at about the same age as your mother did.

Menopause is a gradual process which occurs as you age. But some surgeries (a hysterectomy for example) or medical conditions can trigger your body to stop producing estrogen. In these cases menopause occurs much more abruptly. 

What Signals the Start Of Menopause?

The months or years leading up to menopause are called perimenopause. Your body begins making less estrogen, which causes your ovaries to release fewer eggs. “You may skip periods, have irregular bleeding, spotting or heavy bleeding, and mild hot flashes during this time,” says obstetrician/gynecologist J. Scott Bembry, MD. “Any of this is possible. It’s a time for women to be evaluated by their doctor to be sure nothing unusual is going on.”

“Unless there is a reason not to do so, I often prescribe a birth control pill for women during perimenopause to regulate them until they get to the point of menopause,” Dr. Bembry adds. “Another option is a special IUD that contains a small amount of progestin to stabilize the uterus. Of course, some women prefer no treatment at all, and that’s fine, too.”

Once you’ve gone for a full year without periods, you have reached menopause. There are ways your doctor can determine if you have reached menopause, says Dr. Bembry.

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What Symptoms Can I Expect?

There are numerous symptoms you may experience during menopause. You might experience all of them, just some of them, or none at all. The most common symptoms are:

  • Hot flashes. Brief periods of sudden warmth in your upper body, sometimes including intense sweating. Intense hot flashes during the night are called night sweats.
  • Mood swings. As your body adjusts to the changes associated with menopause, it’s not unusual to have episodes of irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, or depression.
  • Sleep disruption
  • Hair and skin changes. You may notice an increase in hair loss and a decrease in the elasticity of your skin, says Dr. Bembry.
  • Vaginal dryness. The lining of your vagina becomes thin and dry, which can make intercourse painful.
  • Urinary changes, including incontinence.
  • Weight gain. Although most women tend to gain weight during menopause, “it’s not necessarily because of menopause; it’s because of age,” Dr. Bembry explains. “You lose muscle mass as you age, your metabolism changes, and it’s just harder to lose weight.”  
Once you’ve gone for a full year without periods, you have reached menopause.

When Will It End?

Some of these symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, may cease eventually, but it could take a few years. Others, like vaginal dryness, may continue indefinitely. “Every patient is different,” stresses Dr. Bembry.

There are things you can do to manage your symptoms. It’s important to talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing and your treatment options including hormone replacement therapy.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.