Midlife, for women, means menopause.
Your changing body, round two. Some look forward to it; most fear it (due to its reputation for miserable symptoms like mood swings and hot flashes).
Let’s shed a little light on what menopause really means.
Literally, it means “the monthly” (meno) “stops” (pause). Pretty self-explanatory. But let’s take things a little further. To be diagnosed as menopausal, a woman has to have not had a period for 12 full months. A year after her last period is the formal beginning of menopause.
Menopause is a moment
By the time you reach menopause, which often starts between the ages of 45 and 55, estrogen and progesterone production has tapered off significantly. Those notorious night sweats, hot flashes, and mood swings? The body’s response to lower hormone levels.
The good news is, menopause is just a moment. If you’ve made it a year past your last period, you’ve successfully made it to — and past — menopause.
The bad news is, menopause is just a moment. It’s a mile marker on the journey of aging, but the symptoms commonly associated with menopause actually start before you get there, and keep going with you miles down the road.
Symptoms of menopause
The discomfort associated with menopause tends to start well before it, in perimenopause. That’s when fertility hormones begin to drop. Women often have “menopause” symptoms for several years leading up to and well after the one-year menopause mark.
According to a study published in JAMA, the average length of time to experience menopausal symptoms is around seven and a half years in total — that’s four and a half years if you start counting following the last period. Some people have symptoms for upward of a decade.
Other menopausal symptoms include:
- Mood-related symptoms like anxiety and depression
- Vaginal dryness, pain during sex, or loss of desire
- Physical changes such as weight gain, thinning skin, or stiff joints
- Urinary symptoms such as incontinence and frequent urination
Adjusting to post-menopausal life
One of the most important things to consider post-menopause is that estrogen levels have fallen off. This is a big deal and means a lot for your body.
Estrogen isn’t just a reproductive health hormone. Until menopause, your body has relied on estrogen as a key player in strong bones, appropriate fat distribution, cognitive health, and even mood-regulating hormones. Estrogen loss is the big reason for all the symptoms, and it can also contribute to certain increased health risks in post-menopause.
While hormone replacement therapy is an option for many, and supplements formulated to ease menopause symptoms can help, it’s important to give your body all the help it can get to stay healthy. Regular exercise and nutrition will help support your physical and mental wellness as your body undergoes this natural change.
Menopause is just a moment. It’s not something to fear. With knowledge, trusted care providers, and grace for your changing body, it’s just one more part of a continuously-changing life.
P.S. If you have the symptoms above but aren’t at menopause yet…
You might be wondering: is it perimenopause? The symptoms of perimenopause are often mistaken for other issues. Read “Is it PMS or Perimenopause?” to learn more.