If you’ve heard someone reference menopause recently, there’s a chance it happened in hushed tones. Maybe they didn’t even say the word, and just quietly mentioned ‘The Change.’
Menopause is a big change, but it’s not one that needs to be whispered about. By speaking more openly about the physical and mental transitions that occur throughout a person’s menopausal years, more people will have the tools they need to navigate this natural phase of life. Here’s a primer to get you started:
What is a menopause?
Menopause occurs as the ovaries gradually stop releasing the hormones and eggs that prepare the body for a possible pregnancy. During this time, menstrual cycles also end. Menopause has become the blanket term to describe this phase of life, but really there are three distinct stages, says the NIH:
- Perimenopause: This is the period leading up to menopause, typically starting while a person is in their 40s. For some, it lasts months; for others, years. During this time, periods can decline or become irregular, and estrogen levels can fluctuate. Symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, changes in mood or libido, and sleep troubles can also emerge. Though fertility starts to decline because of hormonal and menstrual changes, those in the perimenopausal period can still get pregnant up until their final period. If pregnancy is not a goal, you’ll want to stick to your regular contraceptive methods throughout this time.
- Menopause: Menopause is officially reached once a person has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. Though menopause is often associated with symptoms like hot flashes, these actually typically appear during perimenopause, and will start to decline once your menstrual cycle has been gone a year.
- Post-menopause: This is the period that starts once menopause has been reached, and lasts the rest of your life.
How do I know if I’m starting menopause?
This is one of the biggest questions that surrounds menopause, especially since symptoms can look different on everyone. They can also mirror symptoms from other conditions and can strike during a wide age range. You might immediately recognize certain symptoms as menopause, but it’s also common to mistake or dismiss it—or not even have many symptoms at all. Here are some of the things to watch out for if you think you could be experiencing perimenopause or menopause:
- You’re between the ages of 45 and 55. This is typically when menopause occurs, with the average age in the U.S. being 51, according to the NIH. Some people can experience it outside this age range—referred to as early menopause—which occurs before 40. It can be triggered by several factors including damage to ovaries, surgical intervention that removes the ovaries, genetics, and some chromosomal abnormalities. Late menopause—post age 55—can also occur, typically a result of genetics.
- You notice symptoms of menopause. The most common of these are hot flashes (referred to as night sweats when they happen at night). You might also have vaginal dryness or thinning, new discomfort during sex, a shift in libido, mood swings, or trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Your periods change. Ultimately, menopause results in your periods ending completely. But before that, they might become irregular, heavier, or lighter.
What should I do if I think I’m starting menopause?
If you think you might be experiencing any phase of menopause, schedule a visit with your clinician. They’ll likely ask you more questions about your symptoms and do blood work to check your hormone levels, helping to determine if it’s menopause or something else. If it is perimenopause, they may recommend some of these treatments to manage your more uncomfortable symptoms:
- Find your hot flash triggers. Certain foods like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and hot spices are known to trigger hot flashes in some women. Try keeping a log of your day that includes what you eat and drink, your activity levels, what you wore that day, and when you had hot flashes and see if you can spot any patterns.
- Sleep better with acupressure. According to one study from the Iranian Journal of Medical Studies, acupressure can help improve quality of sleep for menopausal people. Try out acupressure wrist bands or laying on an acupressure mat in the two hours before bedtime to release tension and sleep more soundly.
- Be more mindful. A recent study from Climacteric found that mindfulness can ease the symptoms of menopause. If you’re unfamiliar with meditation or mindfulness practices, this is a great time to pick up something new that will carry you through this new phase in life. Search on Amazon Music or mindfulness apps for guided meditations specifically designed for people experiencing the symptoms of menopause.
- Switch it up in the bedroom. Your body is experiencing a change, and your sex life can, too. Rather than feeling discouraged from a shift in libido or discomfort due to dryness, take the symptoms as an excuse to try something new. Lubricants, speaking up about your desires, and shopping for items that make sex more exciting can all help your sex life thrive in its new era.
- Embrace the new you. There is no cure for menopause, since it’s not a disease or disorder—it’s a natural phase of life. It’s common to feel apprehension or distress about aging. But a study published in the Journal of Aging Research shows that accepting the process and maintaining a positive perspective about this new stage of life is one of the critical elements to aging well.
If you think you may be experiencing any stage of menopause or have more questions about the process, open the Amazon Care app and start a visit with a clinician today.