Menopause is a stage of life, not unlike adolescence, that affects every woman around the world. However, women’s physical and mental experiences during “the change,” as it’s often called, vary within and across cultures. With knowledge and attention to self-care, menopause can mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter of life for all women.
Perimenopause is a time of life when a woman’s body changes in preparation for menopause. Women enter perimenopause at different ages. Typically, women will begin to notice symptoms in their 40s, but some may experience them sooner, some as early as their 30s. Perimenopause can last as short as two years or as long as 10 years.
The physical symptoms below will signal the nearing of menopause. Some women will experience all of the symptoms and some women will only experience a few. One of the most common symptoms is a change in menstrual periods. Many of the symptoms below are caused from hormonal changes.
- Irregular periods or skipping periods
- Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
- Vaginal dryness, which can cause painful intercourse
- Urinary tract changes
- Hot flashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Emotional changes – irritability, mood swings, mild depression
It’s important to note that pregnancy is still possible during perimenopause; the potential for pregnancy only goes away after a woman has not had her period for 12 consecutive months.
Menopause is defined as the time in a woman’s life when she stops having menstrual periods; thus marking the end of her reproductive years. In the United States, menopause occurs on average at age 51; however, it can happen anytime within the age range of 40 to 58. Women aren’t considered to be through menopause until they have had 12 consecutive months without a period.
After menopause, the remainder of a woman’s life is considered postmenopause. Because estrogen levels continue to decrease, vaginal dryness and hot flashes may persist. Even after menopause, annual exams with a women’s health care provider are still recommended to address the many aspects of women’s health that are unique to this age. Some considerations after menopause include bone density, breast health, urinary incontinence and pelvic floor health.