Menopause Facts

It's only natural to wonder how your body will navigate the natural passage women experience called menopause. Menopause is defined as the point when your ovaries stop releasing eggs, estrogen levels decline and you no longer menstruate. Because women love to share their horror stories about menopause, you might feel a little nervous wondering how your body will react. Keep in mind that every woman is unique, and the way your body experiences the "silent passage" depends upon heredity and lifestyle choices.

Transitional perimenopause

Menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. However, there is a period of a few years prior to menopause when women begin to experience menopausal symptoms while still getting a monthly menstrual flow. This transitional step is called perimenopause. Women have been diagnosed with perimenopausal symptoms as early as in their late 20s and 30s, but experience it more often in their 40s.

Menopause ends

If you haven't had your period for one year, menopause is over. You have now entered the period called postmenopause, the time when you can no longer become pregnant.

Menopause facts

When in doubt, ask your doctor for blood and urine tests that will determine your hormonal levels and whether or not you are close to menopause or are already going through the passage. Other menopause facts include the following:

  • Symptoms of menopause can last five years or more with varying intensity levels.
  • Surgical menopause (after a hysterectomy) begins suddenly and can be more severe than going through menopause naturally.
  • An irregular heartbeat as well as feelings of anxiety can occur during menopause.
  • Heat flashes can occur anytime during menopause, but are most intense during the first two years.
  • Night sweats and insomnia, as well as aches and pains in joints can occur during menopause.
  • A lack of interest in sex, even during sexual stimulation is common.
  • Headaches, mood swings, depression and forgetfulness can often occur.
  • Bone density loss increases during postmenopause and can lead to osteoporosis.

Drug therapy treatments

Women who experience extreme symptoms of menopause often find relief through prescription drugs such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), low-dose birth control pills (during perimenopause), antidepressants, blood pressure medications that sometimes lessen hot flashes, and vaginal estrogen cream. If you choose HRT to manage your menopausal symptoms, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you take the lowest dose possible for the shortest period of time. New studies link long-term use of HRT to a higher risk for stroke, heart attack, breast cancer and blood clots.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes to help you manage the symptoms of menopause include eating a low saturated fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and getting more exercise. These two changes will prevent you from gaining weight, will help you manage increased levels of stress and will encourage you to sleep better at night. Although the National Institutes of Health reports no studies on herbal supplements such as black cohosh, red clover, dong quai and soy, if you want to give them a try discuss these options with your doctor first to avoid any drug interactions.

Menopause signals an end to one part of your life, but it's also the beginning of a new and productive phase if you make the most of it. When you accept menopause in a positive light, the years following can be dynamic and rewarding.

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