All About Menopause

Menopause is marked by the permanent end of menstruation. Hormone levels shift, ovulation stops, feelings and moods adjust, and your period comes to an end. It’s a huge change for every woman, and being prepared means being informed.

Menopause often coincides with a time in a woman’s life when she is beginning to come into her own. Scientifically speaking, postmenopausal women are least likely of all women to be depressed. They may have a greater sense of well-being than at any other point in their lives. Many older women are leaders in their communities and respected members of extended families. Menopause gives 45–55 year-old women a new lease on life physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually.

Some women rejoice; they view menopause as a change for the better. They’re happy to say goodbye to PMS, cysts, fibroids, worries about pregnancy and, most of all, their period.

Menopause can also be a time when a woman mourns the loss of her fertility and youth, and worries about aging and illness.

Physical Changes

Menopause happens in women around 45–55 years old. The body stops releasing eggs, the menstrual cycle ends, and pregnancy is no longer a possibility. For some women, it happens all at once and for others it is a gradual change. And sometimes it is a lurching, stop-and-start process that takes years. However it happens, it affects a woman’s hormones, body and feelings.

Perimenopause is the gradual period of change leading into menopause. For most women it will last two or three years, though for some it lasts as long as 10 or 12 years. The ovaries’ production of estrogen slows down, making hormones fluctuate and causing physical changes.

While menopause usually occurs around age 50, it can happen earlier due to heredity, health conditions, exposure to radiation or chemotherapeutic agents, surgical removal of the ovaries, or any surgery that compromises blood flow to the ovaries. Surgical menopause occurs if the ovaries are removed or damaged, as in a radical hysterectomy or chemotherapy. Surgical menopause begins immediately, with no perimenopause. Temporary “stress menopause” occurs when women in their late 30s or older have no periods for long stretches of time. It can be caused by emotional strain, chemotherapy, grief or illness.

Symptoms

Ovaries do much more than produce eggs. They’re glands, and they secrete estrogen and progesterone. During the perimenopausal years, changing hormone levels can cause erratic, irregular periods, some much heavier than normal. They can also cause hot flashes, mood swings and vaginal dryness. The range of symptoms and their severity are different for every woman, but most perimenopausal women experience at least one of them to some degree.

The Future Is Bright

The good news is that society and the medical community have started to view menopause as an important life event. A wealth of information is available in books, on the Internet and through support groups. Menopause is truly a rite of passage that every woman should be able to emerge from with a sense of renewal and anticipation of a new life to come.

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