Am I in menopause? Maybe.
Unfortunately, there is no clear starting or ending point of menopause for many women. The hormone fluctuations that women face as they age can be divided into these 3 stages:
- Post Menopause
Perimenopause is the period of time leading up to menopause. This phase can begin in the mid to late 30s and continue until one’s 50s to 60s. The average age of menopause is age 51.
Perimenopause is when a women’s hormones fluctuate significantly, resulting in period changes, mood swings and irritability, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances, and weight gain. The ovaries are most likely still releasing eggs, and women are still most likely fertile during this phase, so contraception should be considered.
The definition of menopause is when periods have stopped for 12 consecutive months. Hormonal-related symptoms become more intense at this point, and the ovaries are no longer producing and releasing eggs, so women are no longer fertile. The ovaries have also reduced their production of hormones.
Women become menopausal due to many variables: genetics, surgical intervention such as hysterectomies, radiation, and chemotherapy have been found to affect when a woman achieves menopause. Environmental and lifestyle issues may also affect the onset of menopause issues. For example, women who smoke are more likely to go through menopause earlier than women who do not smoke.
Post Menopause is the phase after menopause has been achieved, and the body begins to adjust to low hormone levels. Symptoms will usually lessen in severity at this time; however, the post-menopausal years can bring on some new symptoms such as dry hair and skin, vaginal dryness and tissue atrophy, and pelvic floor relaxation.
Since estrogen plays a role in collagen production, your skin, hair, bones, and other tissues will be affected due to estrogen deficiency, and these tissues will lose their elasticity and moisture.
One challenge that women may face is determining the onset of menopause when they don’t have menstrual cycles, either due to surgical removal of their uterus or if they have a progestin-based IUD such as a Mirena or Liletta IUD. Fortunately, specific hormone lab tests can help identify what stage of menopause you are currently experiencing.
As I tell many women during their gynecological visits, no one dies from menopause, but symptoms may become so severe that they significantly affect your quality of life. If your mood swings and irritability are affecting your work relationships, your lack of sex drive is causing problems with your partner, or if your hot flashes and night sweats are preventing a good night’s sleep, then a consultation with your women’s health provider may offer you some relief.
Care options might include hormone replacement therapy, blood tests, dietary consultations, pharmaceutical-grade supplements, and possible lifestyle changes to relieve your symptoms. A trusted and non-judgmental health care provider will patiently listen to your concerns and assist in managing this phase of your life.
We are accepting new patients. To schedule, call 309-692-6838 or email us. We’re here to help.
Dana Humes Goff, APRN, CNM, DNP