There are many women in their 40s and beyond who look forward to the end of their reproductive years with eager anticipation.
For some, the transition into menopause is a welcomed relief from the pain and bleeding associated with their menstrual cycles. For others, the changes of menopause can be physically or emotionally more difficult.
For most women, menopause is a natural process, but that does not necessarily mean that it is easy. Any woman who has had a natural childbirth could attest to the fact that not all natural processes are a breeze.
Natural menopause is the permanent ending of menstruation due to the age-related decline in ovarian function and the cessation of ovarian hormone production, predominantly estrogen and progesterone.
This process does not occur overnight; the ovary is not turned on and off like a light switch. As women age, their production of ovarian hormones gradually declines. By a woman’s mid-to-late 40s, the hormone production by the ovary may have fallen enough to cause either change to the regularity and predictability of the menstrual cycles and/or symptoms of falling hormone levels.
The average age of natural menopause is 51 years, but many factors can hasten the onset of menopause like inherited or acquired conditions that cause premature ovarian failure, surgical removal of the ovaries, hysterectomy, or certain types of chemotherapy or pelvic radiation.
Some lucky women experience no signs or symptoms of menopause other than their periods stopping. For the majority of women, perimenopause and menopause are associated with bothersome symptoms that can be quite disruptive to a woman’s quality of life. If you suspect you are in perimenopause, you may be experiencing some, if not all, of the signs and symptoms below:
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods (shortened cycles or more spaced out cycles with heavy bleeding)
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Sleep disturbances
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Loss of libido
If you suspect you are perimenopausal or have recently transitioned into menopause, there are several things you should do.
Keep your regularly scheduled visits with your gynecologist
Until you have gone a year without a period, you still need birth control. Just because your ovarian function is declining does not mean that you cannot ovulate, and if you are sexually active, that could result in an unexpected pregnancy later in life. As you age, your preventative health care becomes even more important. You need annual breast and pelvic exams as well as age-appropriate cancer screening, Pap test screening, and laboratory screening to assess for elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and abnormal thyroid function.
Track your menstrual cycles and your symptoms
There are many free or inexpensive applications for smartphones or tablets to track your menstrual cycles, amount of bleeding, and symptoms. Alternatively, you can journal your symptoms in a notebook and bring it for review at your appointments. You will find that you will remember much more of what you are experiencing if you write it down. This will also enable your gynecologist to see patterns in your bleeding that might otherwise be difficult to discern.
Call your gynecologist
If you are having symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, call to schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. For many women, the symptoms of menopause, particularly when they are severe, can have a significant impact on your sense of wellness. Once perimenopause or menopause are identified as the cause, there are potential treatments available to help ease the symptoms. Please contact Frisco Women’s Health, and our friendly personnel would be happy to connect you with a practitioner experienced in treating the many challenges associated with menopause.