Menopause is a biological process of a woman’s body that marks the end of the ability to reproduce. Just like puberty, menopause too is a normal part of a woman’s life. Although a woman may experience many symptoms as she enters menopause, it certainly isn’t a disease or a condition. Despite the symptoms being common among women, each woman experiences menopause differently and uniquely.
Menopause typically starts one year after a woman has had her last period, however, some women may begin experiencing menopause symptoms even earlier. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average age for a woman to enter menopause in the United States is 51 years. But then again this age varies because each body is different. Menopause might even begin earlier when a woman is in her 40s or even late 30s. The symptoms of menopause often last for many years and can even begin years before menopause, and last for years afterward.
Menopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause?
When you start experiencing menopause symptoms like changes in your menstrual cycle, this transition period is called perimenopause. Perimenopause ends when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. However, it should be noted that perimenopause refers to a period of time while menopause stands for a point in time, which is often a misunderstanding and source of confusion. Perimenopause usually lasts for four years. However, this is only an average and does not predict the exact duration of time for any individual woman.
The period after menopause is called postmenopause. During postmenopause, a woman has not had her menstrual cycle for over a year, even though she might still experience symptoms that are related to estrogen deficiency like vaginal atrophy.
One of the two most common symptoms of menopause are hot flashes and a dry vagina. These two symptoms happen because of the low estrogen in the body that is normally produced by the ovaries. Hot flashes usually go away within five years of a woman’s final menstrual period. However, a report of the Penn Ovarian Aging Study found that more than 1/3 of women continue to have moderate to severe hot flashes for 10 years or more. The study also notes that women who had hot flashes during perimenopause, had them even longer for an average of 11.6 years.
Just as puberty, perimenopause, and menopause begin and end at different times for each woman. Factors that influence the timing and experience in every woman include genetics, lifestyle, general health, stress, and even cultural perspective.
So, how long does it really last?
With that being said, the majority of women experience their menopause in a two-to-ten year window of time that probably takes place in their mid-forties to their mid-fifties. However, it is normal to begin your menopause much earlier and much later and still have a healthy menopause. Whether you have a single hot flash, or you keep having hot flashes in your late 60s too, it can still be normal. But, you don’t have to put up with all the symptoms of menopause, especially if they are severe, because there are a bunch of ways you can keep them intact.
Starting with a lifestyle change like embarking on a healthy diet and a regular exercise program will help manage your symptoms and even boost your health. Quitting smoking, drinking, or other unhealthy habits can help too. To avoid or even lower the severity of hot flashes, dress lightly and in layers. And you might want to avoid triggers like caffeine and spicy foods.
What is the available treatment for menopausal symptoms?
The main treatment for menopausal symptoms is usually a hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This kind of treatment involves taking estrogen to replace the decline of this hormone in the body that happens in menopause. There are two main types of HRT as follows:
- Combined HRT – which is a combination of estrogen and progestogen which is given to women who still have their womb
- Estrogen-only HRT – given to women who have had their womb removed in a hysterectomy
HRT is very effective at relieving menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes and night sweats, however, there are a number of possible side effects that might occur, like breast tenderness, headaches, and even an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer in some women. Therefore, women who have had certain types of breast cancer or are at a high risk of getting breast cancer, are not recommended to take HRT.
Other symptoms that can really be bothering during menopause are mood swings, low mood, and anxiety. There are self-help measures to tackle the latter such as getting enough rest, exercising regularly, doing yoga or other techniques. Other treatments and medications are also available, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of talking therapy that can improve low mood and anxiety.
You might also want to read: What Are The Symptoms Of Early Menopause?