Menopause isn’t an illness and it isn’t technically infertility - it is the permanent end to menstruation. Every woman in the world will go through this eventually, some earlier than others. Menopause is typically identified when a woman hasn’t had her period in more than 12 months and she is not pregnant.
Menopause is caused by a change in hormones, much like many other changes to the female body. Understanding the causes and symptoms of menopause may help you come to terms with the end of your fertile years.
Most women will experience menopause in between the ages of 40 and 58 with the average age being 51. The actual physical changes that go along with it can begin as early as 4-8 years before the final menstrual period known as perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the time when the ovaries begin to gradually make less and less estrogen. This transitional phase lasts 4-8 years until menopause when the ovaries release their final eggs. During the final one to two years of perimenopause, estrogen levels drop significantly.
Perimenopause is marked by:
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- A worsening of premenstrual syndrome
- Lower sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- More frequent urination
- Mood swings
Physical Symptoms and Changes
To identify menopause, keep an eye out for certain symptoms. As you enter menopause, your periods will become irregular. They may change in frequency, flow, and duration.
Hot flashes can make you feel hot for no discernible reason and are common. This may also result in night sweats or hot flashes that occur in life. Hot flashes may extend into the phase after menopause known as postmenopause.
Hormones reign supreme in terms of menopause. Symptoms of anxiety and depression may be heightened. Consult with your doctor if your symptoms are getting too much to handle.
While most women experience menopause in their 50s, certain circumstances may cause it to begin before age 40. Because menopause signifies the end of a woman’s fertile period, premature menopause may come as a shock for women who were still hoping to become pregnant.
Defects in chromosomes can cause early menopause in women. In some cases, this defect can cause the ovaries to develop improperly or to never develop at all, preventing menstrual cycles from taking place. Women with a family history of early menopause are also likely to have it themselves.
Certain autoimmune diseases may mistakenly attack the body’s reproductive system, triggering early menopause. These include thyroid diseases and rheumatoid arthritis. Bilateral oophorectomy or the removal of both ovaries induces immediate menopause. Periods stop happening and hormones drop rapidly.
Chemotherapy treatments can cause ovarian damage which can bring it on sooner as well. It can occur immediately or it can take a few months to appear.
Menopause is something that happens naturally and happens to every woman at some point in her life. Knowing the conditions that come along with this inevitability, can help to ease the stress that may go along with the transition into your later years.
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