Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period and is usually confirmed when a menstruator has missed their period for 12 consecutive months (with no other obvious causes). Contrary to how it’s generally described by society, it is actually only one day of a menstruator’s life. It results in lower levels of estrogen and other hormones.
The ins and outs of menopause
Most people with periods experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, with the average age being 51. Menopause happens when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month and menstruation stops. For those with painful periods, this can be a welcome change, but there are other symptoms they can experience during this time.
Physical changes begin happening years before the final menstrual period in the transitional phase called perimenopause. This is typically what people are referring to when they say, “I’m going through menopause,” which isn’t actually accurate. Perimenopause can last between four and eight years, which seems like a long time, until you compare it with the length of years you had your period.
Perimenopause begins with changes in the length of time between periods and ends after you haven’t had your period for an entire year. Two factors that can influence the timing of natural menopause are genetics and smoking. Those who smoke tend to reach menopause about two years earlier than those who don’t.
What to expect when transitioning to menopause
It’s important to note that every person’s experience of menopause is different, so while this can be hard, try not to compare your journey to anyone else’s. Some only experience irregular periods, while others have to endure hot flashes, night sweats, and emotional changes.
- Hot flashes. These are the most common menopause-related discomfort and it’s likely you already know about this one. They involve a sudden wave of heat or warmth and are often accompanied by sweating, reddening of the skin, and rapid heartbeat. Almost sounds like how you’d feel during a workout, right? Hot flashes typically last one to five minutes and are frequently followed by a cold chill.
- Night sweats. Hot flashes that occur at night and interfere with sleep. While the myth of menopause itself causing irritability has been debunked, sleep disturbances that stem from hot flashes and night sweats can certainly make anyone feel irritable.
- Emotional changes. Although depression isn’t caused by menopause, studies show that 20% of menstruators have symptoms of depression during this time and it’s more likely if you’ve experienced it at other times in your life.
o Other emotional changes to look out for: Lack of motivation, anxiety, aggressiveness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, mood changes, tension, and feelings of sadness.
Other symptoms to look out for
While the above are the most common symptoms, everyone has a different journey and yours may include some of the ones listed below.
- Uneven or missed periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Sore breasts
- Needing to urinate more often
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry skin, eyes, or mouth
And later on:
- Racing heart
- Joint and muscle aches and pains
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Changes in libido (sex drive)
Common causes of premature menopause
Things like your genes, some immune system disorders, or medical procedures can cause premature menopause. If you’re concerned about this, schedule some time to chat with your doctor. Two other causes are:
- Premature ovarian failure. When your ovaries stop releasing eggs prematurely, for unknown reasons, your levels of estrogen and progesterone change. When this happens before age 40, it’s called premature ovarian failure, but unlike premature menopause, this condition isn’t always permanent.
- Induced menopause. This happens when your doctor removes your ovaries for medical reasons, like uterine cancer or endometriosis. It can also happen when there is damage to the ovaries through things such as radiation or chemotherapy.