What is Menopause?

Menopause is defined as when a woman has missed her period for 12 consecutive months. This change is caused by reduced production of estrogen and other hormones. It is a normal, natural life development that all women experience. Most women experience menopause between ages 40 and 58. The average age is 51.

What is Perimenopause?

These physical changes begin years before the final menstrual period. This transition phase is called perimenopause and may last for 4 to 15 years. It begins with various symptoms and ends with menopause. There is no blood test to confirm this stage, but rather a review of the symptoms experienced will produce the diagnosis. 

Common Body Changes at Menopause

Each woman’s experience of menopause is different. Some women report no physical changes during perimenopause except irregular menstrual periods that stop when menopause is reached. Other women experience symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, and thinning and drying of vaginal tissue that can make sex painful. Other symptoms include mood changes, joint pain, bloating, weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, hair and skin thinning and more. 

Hot flashes are the most common menopause-related symptom. They involve a sudden wave of heat or warmth often accompanied by sweating, reddening of the skin, and rapid heartbeat. They usually last 1 to 5 minutes. Hot flashes frequently are followed by a cold chill.

What Can be Done to Support?

Night sweats are hot flashes at night that interfere with sleep. The loss of sleep can have many implications including fatigue, weight gain, and brain fog. Treatments for night sweats and hot flashes include lifestyle changes, non-prescription remedies, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Body identical varieties of HRT have made a huge improvement over earlier synthetic types and pose very few post health risks. The delivery is via patches and gels rather than pills. 

The drop in estrogen around menopause leads to vaginal atrophy (the drying and thinning of vaginal tissues) in many women. It can cause a feeling of vaginal tightness during sex along with pain, burning, or soreness. Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants and moisturizers are effective in relieving pain during intercourse. For women with more severe vaginal atrophy and related pain, low-dose vaginal estrogen products may be needed.

Almost all symptoms can be helped using a lifestyle approach. Using food as medicine, restorative sleep techniques, movement to support hormones and mindfulness to promote sleep and reduce stress. 

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Although there has been a fair bit written on Perimenopause and Menopause, there is a strange lack of awareness of how this hormonal change can affect women’s lives. And especially little support from the medical community to support women through these changes.