What happens and how does menopause feel?
Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. In the United States, approximately 1.3 million women become menopausal each year and it typically begins between the ages of 51 and 52. Though menopause is often associated with symptoms like hot flashes, these actually typically appear during perimenopause and will start to decline once your menstrual cycle has been gone for a year.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the time before menopause (perimenopause) typically starts when a person is in their 40s. For some, it lasts months, for others, years. During this time, periods can decline or become irregular, and estrogen levels can fluctuate. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, changes in mood or libido, and sleep issues are symptoms of this stage. Although hormonal and menstrual changes reduce fertility, those in the perimenopausal period can still get pregnant right up until their last period. If pregnancy is not a goal, you’ll want to stick to your regular contraceptive methods throughout this time.
The time after menopause (post-menopause) is the period that starts once menopause has been reached and lasts the rest of your life.
Some women experience mild symptoms. Others have severe symptoms that disrupt their sleep and everyday activities. Symptoms tend to last or are worse the first year or more after menopause. Over time, hormones even out at low levels, and many symptoms improve or disappear.
Do you need to test to diagnose menopause?
You do not need to test to see if you are in perimenopause or reached menopause. You may not need to see your provider about menopause symptoms, but it is important to keep up your annual physical examinations. Risks for heart disease, cancer, bone thinning (osteoporosis) increase after menopause. Annual wellness appointments are important for you to check and discuss your overall health.
Do you need treatment during menopause?
Menopause is a natural part of aging and you do not need treatment unless your symptoms are upsetting you or are uncomfortable. You do not need to suffer through them.
The key is to have a healthy lifestyle as this helps to reduce symptoms and lower risks of other long-term problems related to aging. This means eating well, remain active, stay social and reduce consumption of caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine.
It is important to be open with your healthcare provider about any symptoms you are experiencing and how they impact your quality of life. Your provider can recommend a plan to manage your symptoms.