Menopause 101: Navigating a new stage of life
Menopause shouldn't be a scary time in a woman's life. By understanding what to expect when you enter a new phase in your reproductive life you can spend less time worrying about the unknown.
Each phase of a woman’s life ushers in exciting changes alongside new challenges. Menopause is a phase that can bring you a lot of joy as you enter a new stage of life or simply from being done with your period forever! Although, it’s also a huge transformation for a woman physically, mentally and emotionally.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural process that occurs as a woman’s ovaries age and start to produce less hormones meant for reproduction including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This period also marks the loss of active ovarian follicles; the structures that produce and release eggs from the ovary wall for menstruation and pregnancy.
What to expect
Menopause literally means the ‘ceasing of menstruation’ as the end of menopause results in what can be referred to as the ‘full stop’ of your monthly period. In the beginning of the end of a woman’s reproductive years (also referred to as ‘perimenopause’), new symptoms begin to surface. Although, each woman will experience menopause differently, from mother to daughter menopause can be easy and pain-free or a heck of a challenge.
Some of the most common symptoms of ‘perimenopause’ (the time before your period stops forever) are:
- Hot flushes
- Night Sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sex drive
- Problems with memory or concentration
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- Mood changes
- Heart Palpitations
- Joint aches and stiffness
- Reduced muscle mass
- Recurrent UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections)
What’s the average age and length of menopause?
If menopause occurs naturally, it happens sometime around the mid to late 40s and by age 52 most women have gone through menopause. Although, menopause can also be induced at a younger age through the surgical removal of the ovaries (a hysterectomy) or the shutdown of the ovary function (ovarian ablation) as a result of hormone therapy or other radiotherapy techniques, pelvic radiation or severe pelvic injuries.
Managing symptoms and body changes
Menopause can be physically and mentally taxing but there are many ways, both at home and professionally to make this stage of life feel a lot smoother. Also, talking to the women in your life that have experienced or are experiencing the same process can be comforting so don’t be shy about reaching out.
Day Time Symptoms
During the day, try to wear linen or light cotton to stay cool and dry during hot flushes. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight can decrease the severity of menopause symptoms by reducing stress hormones and giving you a boost of endorphins. Plus, you can always take a cold shower to cool down.
Night Time symptoms
Night sweats are a particularly common and uncomfortable symptom of menopause. To stay cool and dry, try using waterproof sheets and wearing light cotton pajamas to bed. This won’t prevent night sweats but it will help you sleep better, easing other day-time symptoms like mood changes as a result of insomnia.
Bad Habits to kick
Some habits can worsen menopause symptoms, so there are some vices worth kicking to the curb or at least limiting your use of, including:
- Excessive alcohol
- Too much caffeine
Of course, having a glass of wine a couple times a week is fine! Just don’t get into the habit of using these to self-treat your symptoms as they will only worsen them in the long run.
When to contact your doctor
If you notice symptoms of a very early menopause (before the age of 40) or if you are experiencing very severe or distressing symptoms that are interfering with your well being, talk to your doctor as they should be able to shed some light why you are experiencing these symptoms and help you find relief.