Menopause Might Not Be The Cause
Heres a curveball: Your symptoms may not be due to menopause at all. Dr. Evans says, Just like Freud blamed mothers for everything, we tend to blame our ovaries and uterus for everything. But menopause isnt always to blame.
Many symptoms mimic the signs of menopause but there might be other causes. In midlife, there are plenty of factors affecting womens physical and mental health. Some of those can mimic the signs of menopause.
For example, juggling work, kids and aging parents can contribute to anxiety and depression. Weight gain, which is often blamed on menopause, has more to do with an aging metabolism. Thyroid disorders can mimic menopause as well. And though its not the norm, pseudo-hot flashes have even been caused by chronic sinus infections, Dr. Evans says.
Bottom line: Dont write off discomfort as, Well, I guess this is my life now. You dont need to live with uncomfortable symptoms, whatever the cause. See your doctor to figure out whats going on and how best to manage it.
When Does Menopause Usually Happen
Menopause happens when you have gone 12 months in a row without a period. The average age of menopause in the United States is 52. The range for women is usually between 45 and 58.2 One way to tell when you might go through menopause is the age your mother went through it.3
Menopause may happen earlier if you:
- Never had children. Pregnancy, especially more than one pregnancy, may delay menopause.4
- Smoke. Studies show smoking can cause you to start menopause up to two years earlier than women who dont smoke.5
Certain health problems can also cause you to start menopause earlier.
Menopause usually happens on its own. However, you may enter menopause earlier than you normally would if you have had chemotherapy or surgery to remove both ovaries. Learn more about early menopause on our Early or premature menopause page.
How Can I Treat The Symptoms
There are a bunch of ways.
Lifestyle changes. A healthy diet and regular exercise program will help manage your symptoms and boost your health. This is a great time to finally kick any old, unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking too much alcohol. To help with hot flashes, dress lightly and in layers. Avoid triggers like caffeine and spicy foods. And if you stay sexually active, that may help preserve your vaginal lining.
Prescription medication for hot flashes. If you still have your uterus, your doctor might prescribe treatment with estrogen and progesterone. This is called combination hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy . It helps with hot flashes and night sweats, and it may help prevent osteoporosis. If you donât have a uterus, you might get estrogen alone.
Hormone therapy isnât for everyone. Donât take it if you’ve ever had breast cancer, uterine or “endometrial” cancer, blood clots, liver disease, or a stroke. Also don’t take it if you might be pregnant or you have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding.
If you can’t or don’t want to take hormones, other medications can ease symptoms. They include antidepressants, antiseizure drugs, or blood pressure medications to help with hot flashes and mood swings.
Prescription and OTC medication for vaginal dryness and sleep problems. You can try topical estrogen, lubricants, and non-estrogen prescriptions for dryness and painful sex. OTC or prescription sleep aids can help if you have trouble falling asleep.
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What Other Life Changes Affect Menopause
Menopause can be a rough time. In addition to the symptoms that may be tough to deal with, a lot of stressful life changes can happen around the same time as perimenopause and menopause.
Some changes you may go through during this time in your life include:
anxiety about illness, aging, and death
anxiety about the future, getting older, and losing independence
anxiety about being disabled
changes in family, social, and personal relationships
changes in identity or body image
children leaving home
getting divorced or losing a partner
having a partner become ill or disabled
more responsibility for grandchildren
Know The Signs Of Menopause
As women we know menopause is coming, but how do we know when its actually starting and what we can do about it?
As women we know menopause is coming, but how do we know when its actually starting? Knowing the signs of menopause and at what age they may start can help us recognize this transition and, importantly, help us find ways to control discomfort and health risks.
According to the National Institutes of Health , the term menopause refers to the time when menstruation naturally stops, usually between the ages of 45 and 55. Periods stop when the ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. A woman is considered to be in menopause when she has had no menstrual periods for 12 months and has no other medical reason for menstruation to stop. Your healthcare provider can determine whether your periods have stopped naturally or as the result of another medical issue.
The years leading up to the time your period stops are considered perimenopause, and its during this phase that you may start noticing signs that youre approaching menopause. Perimenopause can begin in your thirties or forties and may last as little as a few months or, more commonly, a few years.
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How Will I Feel After The Menopause
And the last question, and probably a really, really important one is “How will you feel when it’s all over?” Now, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t feel as good, if not better than you did before the menopause because the monthly cycle takes quite a lot of energy out of you.
So once your hormones have stopped this cycle completely and you’re through the menopause, you can very often have a lot more energy. You can become much more focused. You can be more energetic. So there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have a great life after the menopause.
But, and this is a real big but, it can take a lot of hard work. If you think about it, if you’ve gone through the average five years, for five whole years, your body has been under a huge amount of stress from all the hormonal changes that have been going on.
Your body has had to work really hard. It’s maybe had to really struggle. And once your hormone levels have balanced off, your body still has to recuperate and, you know, as women today, we tend to really push our bodies. So you need to realise that especially, once your periods stop, that this is the point when you have to take care of yourself really well.
You have to have a good diet. You have to have good nutrition. You have to have that rest and relaxation because the better that you look after yourself now, the better that your postmenopausal years are going to be, and that is a really great incentive.
Know Your Perimenopause Symptoms: Help Is Available
The first signs of perimenopause can make you feel like a teenager again . In addition to those irregular periods, you may have tender breasts and bad PMS. Find yourself crying one minute, irritable the next? Youre not imagining it!
As you approach menopause, symptoms may increase, including insomnia, vaginal dryness, low libido and the infamous hot flashes, where you suddenly feel warm or flushed for no reason.
Shifts in estrogen production trigger hot flashes. For people sensitive to those shifts, it can be like riding a roller coaster.
But dont despair. There are plenty of people who cruise through this transition with no problems whatsoever, Dr. Evans says.
Talk to your doctor if you feel like help is needed for your symptoms. Hormone replacement treatments and lifestyle changes can turn the roller coaster into more of a carousel.
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Hormone Levels Fluctuate Leading To Menopause
As you approach menopause, the production of female hormones by the ovaries starts to slow down. Hormone levels tend to fluctuate, and you may notice changes in your menstrual cycle such as:
- period cycles may become longer, shorter or totally irregular
- bleeding may become lighter
- bleeding may become unpredictable and heavy .
Eventually, your hormone levels will fall to a point where your ovaries stop releasing eggs, your periods stop and menopause is reached.Although fertility after the age of 45 is low, you still need to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. Its recommended to continue contraception until you have had one year without a natural period if youre over 50 years old, or two years without a natural period if youre under 50.
Perimenopause: Its A Process
Officially, menopause occurs when you havent had a period for 12 months. Alas, its not quite as simple as, Now its here, now its gone.
Perimenopause, the stage before the main event, can take a few months or even up to a decade. On average, perimenopause starts in your 40s and lasts about four years.
During this phase, the ovaries gradually pump out less estrogen. Your reproductive system starts to run out of gas, explains Ob/Gyn Judith Evans, MD.
This means your menstrual cycles change thanks to your hormones fluctuating. Periods may get closer together or farther apart. Bleeding may be heavy one month and lighter the next. Eventually, periods will stop completely.
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Menopause And Complementary Therapies
Some women can benefit from using complementary therapies for menopause. But it is important to remember that natural herb and plant medications can have unpleasant side effects in some women, just like prescribed medications. A registered naturopath may provide long-term guidance and balance through the menopausal years.Herbal therapies can often be taken in conjunction with hormone therapy. It is important to let both your doctor and naturopath know exactly what each has prescribed, and to consult your doctor before taking any herbal treatments or dietary supplements for menopause. Some natural therapies can affect or interact with other medications you may be taking.
How Is Menopause Diagnosed
If you believe you are going through menopause and have concerns, talk to your doctor. Menopause does not require an official diagnosis unless you want to confirm it. Your doctor may order a blood test to check your hormone levels. They will check for estrogen as well as a follicle-stimulating hormone .
When Should I Call My Doctor
If any of your postmenopause symptoms bother you or prevent you from living your daily life, contact your healthcare provider to discuss possible treatment. They can confirm you have completed menopause and are in postmenopause.
Some questions you might ask are:
- Are these symptoms normal for people in postmenopause?
- Is there treatment for my symptoms?
- Is hormone therapy still an option?
- What can I do to feel better?
If you experience any vaginal bleeding during postmenopause, contact your healthcare provider to rule out a serious medical condition.
What Symptoms Am I Most Likely To Experience
Symptoms vary greatly from woman to woman. They may occur at different times and with different degrees of severity. The information below is meant only as a guide about what you may experience, and does not cover all possible symptoms.
Change in menstrual bleeding patterns: As women age, menstrual periods change. They may be more or less frequent, shorter or longer, and heavier or lighter. It is important to know that ovulation can still occur, and women in perimenopause can sometimes get pregnant. Women who do not wish to get pregnant should continue to use birth control until they have not had a menstrual period for 12 months.
Changes in a womans menstrual cycle are common and expected during perimenopause. However, worsening bleeding or irregular bleeding should be discussed with a health-care provider. Abnormal bleeding may be the result of other problems with the uterus, such as polyps, fibroids, hyperplasia , or even cancer.
Mood symptoms/sleep disturbances: During perimenopause, some women also have problems with sleeping, forgetfulness, and depression/anxiety. Decrease in sex drive is also quite common. While many of these symptoms can be a result of dropping estrogen levels, they may also be a sign of other medical conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor to get the proper care.
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Can My Diet Affect How Well I Sleep
The following tips can help reduce sleep problems:
- Eat regular meals at regular times.
- Avoid late-night meals and heavy late-night snacks.
- Limit caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola drinks. Caffeine stays in the bloodstream for up to 6 hours and can interfere with sleep.
- Avoid alcohol. It may make you feel sleepy, but it actually affects the cycle of REM and non-REM sleep. This may cause you to wake up throughout the night.
How Long Does The Transition To Menopause Last
Perimenopause, the transition to menopause, can last between two and eight years before your periods stop permanently. For most women, this transition to menopause lasts about four years. You will know you have reached menopause only after it has been a full year since your last period. This means you have not had any bleeding, including spotting, for 12 months in a row.
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What Causes Postmenopausal Bleeding
Vaginal bleeding during postmenopause isn’t a normal side effect of decreasing hormone levels. In some cases, the dryness in your vagina could cause some light bleeding or spotting after sex. In other cases, it could indicate a condition like endometrial hyperplasia or uterine fibroids, infections like endometritis, or cancer. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any vaginal bleeding so you can be evaluated.
Abnormal Bleeding After Menopause
In some cases, bleeding continues after menopause. It is easy to mistake this type of bleeding for symptoms of perimenopause, which may mislead someone to think they have not reached full-menopause when they actually have.
Any spotting or bleeding after menopause is abnormal and should be checked out by a healthcare provider . Spotting or bleeding after menopause can be caused by a medical condition, such as uterine polyps . Uterine polyps are growths on the inside lining of the uterus , and become more common with age .
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At What Age Do Most Women Reach Menopause
The medical definition of menopause is no menstrual bleeding for a year, according to Lauren Streicher, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the medical director of the Northwestern Center for Menopause and the Northwestern Center for Sexual Medicine in Chicago.
Most women experience menopause between age 40 and 58, and the average age at menopause is 51, according to the North American Menopause Society.
Many women are surprised when they go through menopause in their forties because they think theyre too young, but its not unusual, says Dr. Streicher.
Ways To Manage Symptoms Of Menopause
Many of the menopause symptoms like mood swings and hot flashes have to do with the changing levels of estrogen in your body. Hormone therapy is a common treatment for menopause, but it is recommended you speak to your health care provider, as hormone therapy is not recommended for everyone, including women with a history of breast cancer.
Also, women may have different triggers for their hot flashes. Some common triggers are alcohol, caffeine, stress and tight clothing.
Dormire recommends having an honest and upfront conversation with your health care provider about your symptoms and possible treatments. There are a lot of options that we did not have a few years ago. Hormone therapy is not just taking a pill anymore, she said. There are even vaginal creams and patches that are hormonally based, which limit the impact administered hormones have on the rest of the body.
Women have also found success with using nonhormonal medication to treat hot flashes. Medicine usually given for pain or seizures as well as some antidepressants often offer relief.
No one way to treat menopause is better than the other. Because the symptoms vary so greatly from woman to woman, do not be afraid to try different management techniques. Speak with your health care provider to make a plan that is customized to you. If you are experiencing symptoms of menopause, do not feel helpless. There are plenty of ways to manage your symptoms and find relief.
Mary Leigh Meyer
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Signs Of Nearing Menopause
Since you cant measure your hormone levels at home, there are several signs that indicate that you may be approaching menopause. Not every woman experiences these signs, and every woman experiences a different mix of these. In the few years approaching menopause, women will typically experience many symptoms which worsen as true menopause approaches.
When To See A Doctor
Many women may feel uncomfortable discussing menopause with their doctor. Dont ignore your symptoms. Your health care provider may recommend several preventive screening procedures when menopause begins. Consult your doctor if you experience vaginal bleeding after menopause.
As with any other major physical change, its important to speak with your doctor about the early signs of menopause. She can help you stay healthy and positive during this life transition, and possibly prescribe treatment if necessary.
If youre still asking yourself, How will I know when I start menopause? visit the Midlife Health Center at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for more information.
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You Never Used To Have Trouble Focusingbut Now You Do
Find yourself staring at an open email with no idea what you were going to write? You arent alone. I call it meno-fog, says Dr. Allmen. You cant concentrate and have trouble recalling words.
Blame those fluctuating hormones again. Researchers have found that lower estrogen levels impact the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain used when forming memories. The lower your estrogen levels, the harder it is to remember things.