Menopause

Menopause is a natural transition period in a woman’s life, and it occurs on average at age 51. During menopause, a woman’s body produces less estrogen and progesterone, and her ovaries stop producing eggs. Menstruation becomes less frequent and eventually stops altogether.

Managing Life’s Changes

By Laura Childers

The Stages of Menopause

• Perimenopause: Perimenopause typically begins several years before menopause when the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen. In the last one to two years of perimenopause, the decrease in estrogen accelerates. At this stage, many women experience symptoms of menopause.

• Menopause: Menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. At this stage, her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen.

• Postmenopause: These are the years after menopause when menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes become less frequent.

Symptoms of Menopause

In some women, menstrual flow comes to a sudden halt, but its more common for it to stop over time. Periods can also become closely or widely spaced. Irregularity may last for one to three years before menstruation finally ends completely.

Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, vaginal dryness (resulting in painful sex), skin and hair changes, bladder irritability, dry skin, eyes, or mouth, emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression), and sleeplessness.

Testing

Blood and urine tests can be used to measure changes in hormone levels, signaling when a woman is close to menopause or has already gone through menopause. Common tests include:

• FSH Test: A FSH blood test measures the amount of a hormone called FSH in the blood, a follicle-stimulating hormone released by the anterior pituitary gland. FSH stimulates production of eggs and estradiol during the first half of the menstrual cycle.

• Estradiol (E2) Test: An estradiol test measures the amount of a hormone called estradiol in the blood. Estradiol is the most important form of estrogen found in the body. Most of it is made in and released from the ovaries.

Ways to Feel Better

Depression during the menopausal transition is normal, and it’s treated in much the same way that depression is treated at any other time in life. If you suffer from a low mood as a result of menopause, here are a few things you can do:

• Get Sleep. Not only this, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

• Stay Active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

• Talk Through It. Talk to your friends or other women who are going through menopause or have gone through it. Menopause is not a “one size fits all experience,” so it’s often helpful when women support each other. You may also consider talking to a counselor about your problems and/or fears.

• Consider Treatment. Ask your doctor about therapy or medicines. Menopausal hormone therapy can help reduce symptoms causing moodiness. Antidepressants might also help.