Menopause is divided into 3 phases, with each phase lasting for an undetermined time in each woman. To add to the confusion, each woman will experience menopause differently.
The 3 phases are perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
Perimenopause starts years before your last period. Little changes may happen without your notice, and then you get a hot flash, which is a wake up call. Menopause is when your period stops completely. When you have had a full year without your period, you have gone through menopause. On average, menopause is around age 51, although some go through it earlier and some later than that. Next, postmenopause is every thing after menopause, basically, the rest of your life.
Here is a list of common symptoms:
One of the first signs you are entering perimenopause is your period becoming irregular, or missing one here and there, sometimes even for a few months in a row. Next will be the occurrence of hot flashes. They may start mildly in the beginning but menopause takes years to go through and eventually the hot flashes will escalate.
Night sweats go hand in hand with hot flashes. You wake up in the middle of the night and your bedding and nightgown are completely saturated. Some women experience night sweats and not hot flashes, or vice-versa, or both or neither; but the odds are you will get at least one of these symptoms.
Vaginal dryness is yet another side effect of menopause. Diminishing estrogen levels cause physical changes in the moisture and elasticity of the vaginal walls and a decrease in the natural lubrication. OTC lubricants can substitute for a while, but eventually it will become too painful to continue, lovemaking hurts too much and avoidance is easier. Ask your doctor about hormone replacement therapy and if it is right for you.
Lack of sex drive and loss of intimacy in your marriage can be frightening. Keeping an open dialog with your partner and an open mind in the bedroom can help both of you during this time. You may also experience urinary incontinence. The incidence of depression increases and can warrant going to a doctor for help.
You may gain weight for no reason at all; it is a side effect of menopause. The fluctuating hormones are to blame as are the trying times you are going through. Keep your eyes on a healthy diet and exercise and it may fix itself soon enough.
Insomnia is also a side effect of lower estrogen levels. With all you have on your mind, it is easy to blame stress but it is a side effect of diminishing estrogen levels. Taking melatonin, starting at the 1 mg size, an hour or two before bedtime may help you fall and stay asleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body as day turns into night. It has no side effects and it safe. Take the lowest dose and you will awake refreshed.
Mood swings can take you by surprise. Throw in a hot flash and you can seem out of control. Your memory isn’t what it used to be, either. You may worry, but these are all natural consequences of estrogen withdrawal and very common in menopause.
One of the most debilitating physical symptoms is loss of hair, sometimes it seems by the brush-full! This can be scary as your self-esteem and self-confidence are shaken as your hair falls out constantly. Your hair loses the thickness and body you had in your youth. Trying a new hairstyle can be a lifesaver here.
Not all of these symptoms may be present all at once, thank goodness, but you can be sure that a few will be recognizable. Keeping a sense of humor at all times is a great help and looking on the bright side of everyday happenings will help you through this sometimes-difficult time of life.