How to know if what you’re feeling are signs of menopause

As a woman starts to enter middle age, they start to think about menopause and when it will affect them. Menopause is a normal, natural event. Most women start to enter menopause in their 40s and 50s, but the age can vary. Unless surgically induced, menopause is not a quick trip, it is a journey through perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.

What is perimenopause

The earliest stage of menopause usually happens three to five years before full menopause occurs, it can last up to 10 years in some women. During this time, your ovaries gradually stop releasing eggs, and your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This is when women first begin to notice changes in the body and the menstrual cycle becomes more unpredictable.

During these years before your final period, your estrogen level will fluctuate and could cause symptoms similar to premenstrual syndrome. When the levels decrease you experience typically reported symptoms, such as:

• Diminished concentration

• Hot flashes

• Mood swings

• Night sweats

• Disrupted sleep

• Vaginal dryness

When most women describe the symptoms of menopause, they are really referring to the signs of dropping estrogen levels during perimenopause.

What is menopause?

Menopause is technically the date of your last menstrual cycle. After 12 months of consecutive missed periods, menopause is confirmed. As your hormone levels decrease you will continue to feel some of the symptoms you had during perimenopause.

Other signs and symptoms you may experience include:

• Bone density loss

• Dry skin

• Hair loss

• Joint pain

• Racing heart

• Urinary changes

• Weight gain

• Decreased libido

Symptoms mimic many other health conditions; therefore, it is important to speak with your doctor about any concerns you have.

Post-menopause lasts for the rest of your life and it encompasses the years after you’ve gone one full year without menstrual cycles.

While the symptoms of menopause start to end, you are now at increased risk for longer-term health problems related to lower hormone levels. Health problems that rise in postmenopausal women include:

• Heart disease

• Osteoporosis

• High cholesterol

• Gum disease

• Urinary tract infections

• Vaginal atrophy

To reduce the impact that menopause can have, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, avoid smoking and alcohol, and keep a positive attitude about the changes you are going through.

Dr. Angela Huggler specializes in traditional, minimally invasive, and robotic-assisted hysterectomy at SH OB/GYN, 740 High St., Suite 1004, Williamsport. She received her medical degree from Penn ­State University College of Medicine and completed her residency at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. To learn more or schedule an appointment call 570-321-3300.


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