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What every woman should know about menopause stages and symptoms

What every woman should know about menopause stages and symptoms

Menopause is a natural stage of life for women, but it can sometimes seem like it’s one big secret. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, if you take a little time to learn about menopause stages and symptoms.

When it comes to women’s health, pregnancy is often a topic of conversation, but other topics, such as the menstrual cycle and menopause, are largely overlooked. While you may have talked about menopause with your mom or with some friends, you may still not know quite what to expect.

That’s why our Touro team is taking a few minutes to explain the basics about menopause stages and symptoms below.

Defining menopause

To know what to expect from menopause, you first need to understand what it is.

You might think that menopause is the period of time (pun intended) when a woman’s menstrual periods become irregular and eventually stop, but that’s not accurate. Menopause is the specific point in time when you’ve gone a full year without having your period.

What you may have thought of as menopause is actually perimenopause or the menopausal transition. The latter term helps explain exactly what that stage of life includes—it’s a time when you transition from having a monthly cycle to not having one.

The stages of menopausal transition

Menopause is a natural process in which the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. This doesn’t happen all at once or suddenly, in most cases. There’s a true transition as your body changes from one stage of life to another.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the menopausal transition usually begins between ages 45 and 55 for most women. Some women experience it before age 40, while others experience it later. You may notice this “change of life” in the form of missed or irregular periods.

Perimenopause lasts for years, and it can be as long as 14 years. During this time, your hormone levels will fluctuate, with the ovaries eventually stopping production altogether and no longer releasing eggs. At that point, menopause occurs. After having gone 12 months without a period, you will have entered postmenopause.

While most women experience a transition period before menopause, those who undergo a total hysterectomy with removal of the uterus and ovaries go into menopause after surgery.

The symptoms of menopause and how to manage them

Many of the symptoms we associate with menopause actually begin during perimenopause as hormone levels dip. Symptoms may include:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats (“vasomotor symptoms”)
  • Mood swings
  • More frequent vaginal or urinary tract infections
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Sleep problems
  • Trouble focusing
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Weight gain or muscle loss

All the symptoms outlined above are related in some way to decreased production of estrogen and progesterone. As estrogen levels decrease, for example, the lining of the vagina can become thinner, less elastic and drier. This can cause pain during intercourse.

During the menopausal transition, women often experience periods that are longer or shorter than normal or irregular. These changes are also related to fluctuating hormone levels, with the period eventually stopping altogether as hormone production stops.

Every woman’s experience with the menopausal transition is different, but you don’t have to walk through perimenopause alone or grin and bear the symptoms it causes.

Check in with your medical provider about the symptoms you’re experiencing and the effect they’re having on your life and health. Your provider can help you determine whether you’d benefit from treatment options such as hormone replacement therapy or newer medications to treat vasomotor symptoms.

We’re here to care for women at every age and stage of life. Find a women’s health provider to meet your needs.