Menopause & Perimenopause

MENOPAUSE

Menopause is the time in your life when you naturally stop having menstrual periods.  Menopause happens when the ovaries stop making estrogen.  Estrogen is a hormone that helps control the menstrual cycle.  Menopause marks the end of the reproductive years.  The average age that women go through menopause is 51 years.

PERIMENOPAUSE

The years leading up to menopause are called perimenopause.  Beginning in your 30s and 40s, the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries begins to fluctuate.  A common sign of perimenopause is a change in your menstrual cycle. Cycles may become longer than usual for you or become shorter.  You may begin to skip periods. The amount of flow may become lighter or heavier.  Although changes in menstrual bleeding are normal during perimenopause, you still should report them to your health care provider.  Abnormal bleeding may be a sign of a problem.

Signs and Symptoms

Some women do not have any symptoms of perimenopause or have only a few mild symptoms. Others have many symptoms that can be severe. Common signs and symptoms include the following:

–     Hot flashes – A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat that rushes to the upper body and face.  A hot flash may last from a few seconds to several minutes or longer. Some women have hot flashes a few times a month. Others have them several times a day.  Hot flashes that happen at night (night sweats) may wake you up and cause you to feel tired and sluggish during the day.

–     Sleep problems – You may have insomnia (trouble falling asleep), or you may wake up long before your usual time.  Night sweats may disrupt your sleep.

–     Vaginal and urinary tract changes – As estrogen levels decrease, the lining of the vagina may become thinner, dryer and less elastic.  Vaginal dryness may cause pain during sex.  Vaginal infections also may occur more often.  The urethra can become dry, inflamed or irritated.  This can cause more frequent urination and increase the risk of urinary tract infections.

Management

A healthy lifestyle can help you make the best of the years after menopause.  The following are some ways to stay healthy during midlife:

–     Nutrition – Eating a balanced diet will help you stay healthy before, during, and after menopause.  Be sure to include enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet to help maintain strong bones.

–     Exercise – Regular exercise slows down bone loss and improves your overall health.  Weight-bearing exercise such as walking can help keep bones strong.  Strength training strengthens your muscles and bones by resisting against weight, such as your own body, an exercise band or handheld weights.  Balance training, such as yoga and tai chi may help you avoid falls, which could lead to broken bones.

–     Routine health care – Visit your healthcare provider once a year to have regular exams and tests.  Dental checkups and eye exams are important too.  Routine health care visits, even if you are not sick can help detect problems early.

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