Menopause is the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and thus the end of her fertility. This natural stage in life happens to every woman, usually in her 40s or 50s, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the United States the average age a woman hits menopause is 51, but when you hit menopause is mostly based on genetics, so it can happen to you earlier or later than that.
For that reason, it’s important to educate yourself on the stages of menopause so you know what to look out for. It’s also important to note that just because a woman hits menopause, that doesn’t mean she can’t lead a healthy, and s*xual, life. Understanding how menopause affects your body, and the treatment you can seek for any undesirable changes, will help make this transition smoother.
Stages of menopause
Menopause doesn’t just happen overnight. In fact, it happens to women in three stages.
This is the first stage of menopause, and it’s defined as the time when your menstrual cycles start to become irregular. WebMD says during this time you can still get pregnant, but you may start to experience menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
A common misconception is that menopause happens overnight. But WebMD explains that menopause is measured as the year following your last period. WebMD says for this reason you won’t know that you’ve hit menopause for sure until it’s been a year since your last period. But during this time, you’ll experience the symptoms like vaginal dryness and sleep problems that will indicate you’re going through this change.
After a year of having no menstrual periods, you are officially postmenopausal, according to WebMD.
What to expect
When you start to experience the following symptoms – even if you think you are in the perimenopausal stage — it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor. The Mayo Clinic says speaking with your doctor once you think you start going through the stages will ensure that you get proper early detection screenings like a colonoscopy, mammography, lipid screening, thyroid testing if suggested by your history, and breast and pelvic exams.
The symptoms include:
– Irregular periods
– No periods
– Vaginal dryness
– Hot flashes
– Night sweats
– Sleep problems
– Mood changes
– Weight gain and slowed metabolism
– Thinning hair
– Dry skin
– Loss of breast fullness
Treating the symptoms of menopause
Because it’s a natural stage in life that every woman goes through, you can’t stop menopause from happening. But there are a few common treatments that doctors prescribe to help manage the symptoms of menopause.
Lifestyle changes. Getting fit by eating healthier and exercising can go a long way in managing your menopausal symptoms. Your doctor will also recommend kicking bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking. WebMD also says to reduce hot flashes, your doctor might recommend avoiding triggers like caffeine and spicy foods.
Hormone therapy. This option isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to discuss the benefits as well as the possible side effects of this menopause therapy. WebMD says if your doctor determines it’s right for you, she will prescribe progesterone, estrogen or a combination of the two to help fight symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
Medications for vaginal dryness and sleep problems. Your doctor might prescribe you a medication or recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) drug to help fight these irritating symptoms. WebMD explains that for dryness there are topical estrogens, lubricants and even non-estrogen prescriptions to help avoid painful s*x. There are also prescription and OTC drugs to help you get a good night’s rest.
Low-dose antidepressants. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to decrease hot flashes. If your doctor thinks this could be right for you, the Mayo Clinic says she’ll prescribe a low dose to ease these symptoms. Often this is a good alternative for women who can’t, or don’t want to, partake in hormone therapy.
Gabapentin (Neurontin). While this drug is approved to treat seizures, it’s also helped reduce hot flashes. The Mayo Clinic explains that this is another alternative option for women who can’t, or won’t, use hormone therapy.
Natural therapies. Many women seek the help of unproven methods for treatment of menopause. It’s important to speak to your doctor about any natural medications or therapies you use to treat your symptoms, because they could interfere with other parts of your health.
But the Mayo Clinic says it’s also important to note that some natural therapies like acupuncture, meditation and relaxation techniques are harmless, and many women have found them beneficial to helping ease their symptoms and stress.