Everyone's probably heard of menopause, but what is it really? It is a natural event that begins once a woman's fertility and menstrual cycle end. It occurs when the ovaries are no long able to produce the two essential hormones of a woman's reproductive cycle, estrogen and progesterone.
When Do Women Typically Enter Menopause?
This event generally begins anywhere from the ages of 40 to 58, but the average age is about 51. Some women will begin this process early as their late 30s, or as late as their 60s. If, however, it does begin earlier in a woman who is younger than 35, this is condition is usually slapped with the title of premature menopause.
Though it typically occurs when a woman is in her middle age years, it can actually happen abruptly, as a result of certain situations, such as a surgical procedure, illness, or treatment of a disease.
What Are the Symptoms?
Most women will experience a variety of menopausal symptoms. The first of which occurs when a woman first enters menopause, in which her menstrual cycle will become very irregular. Then gasp! It just stops. Period. (Pardon the pun.) For some very lucky ladies, there will be no more symptoms. For the majority of women, though, they will experience frustrating symptoms, which are typically associated with reducing levels of estrogen.
Here is a list of typical menopausal symptoms:
- Mood Swings
- Reduced libido
- Hot Flashes
- Increased Heart Rate
- Vaginal Discomfort
Stages of Menopause
Did you know there are actually stages? Well it's true, as menopause is actually a very gradual process. The events that occur upon a woman entering this new part of her life, will induce changes both socially and physically; however treatments for menopause will often cover all of the stages of menopause. Physically speaking, here are the four primary stages:
1. Premenopause: Some doctors and experts feel that this term should include the complete reproductive period, all the way up to the final stages of the menstrual cycle, while others consider this term to refer to a woman who is on the verge of becoming menopausal. By now, a woman's period has just started to become irregular, yet she does not experience any of the other menopausal signs, such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Typically, at this stage, she will be in her mid-to-late 40s or so. Assuming your doctor tells you that you're in this stage, go ahead ask how she or her uses this term.
2. Perimenopause: Perimenopause typically happens to women when they are about 47. This word refers to a woman who is in the transition phase between premenopause and menopause. By now, her cycles have gone from normal to irregular, and her body is now shifting from being to fertile to becoming permanently infertile.
3. Menopause: This is the biggie. As the process progresses, a woman in menopause is now in the area of her life in which her menstrual period permanently stops. However, it doesn't just happen at the snap of your fingers. Typically, you won't be able to know your exact final period. As such, a woman will know that she has had her final period, only when a whole year has gone by and she had not menstruated.
*Note: Once you've had a year go by in which you are no longer menstruating due to menopause, any vaginal bleeding after this is considered to be abnormal. If this happens, contact your doctor for professional advice.
4. Postmenopausal: This term typically refers to the last third of a woman's life. It covers all women who have not menstruated for at least one year, up to a woman even older than 100 (presuming she lives that long) and beyond even that, up until death. Basically, once you're past your menopause stage, you will from then on, be referred to as postmenopausal for the remainder of your life.
We all know menopause doesn't sound fun in the least bit, and most women think of it as a some kind of taboo that will eventually take place. However, it is important to know that it is not an illness, a disease, or anything of the sort. That it is in fact, a natural and healthy time in a female's life – a stepping stone that every woman will have to go through one day.