Menopause is the time in your life when you stop having periods because of hormonal changes. This usually happens in your late 40s or early 50s, but may happen earlier, with 51 being the most common age.
Menopause starts when your ovaries stop making estrogen, and slow down making other reproductive hormones, like progesterone. Without these hormones, you stop getting your period and stop being able to get pregnant.
Not everyone goes through menopause because of aging. Sometimes other health issues kickstart menopause. If your ovaries are removed through surgery, you may experience sudden symptoms of menopause instead of the gradual change that usually happens. Medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can also make menopause happen early or suddenly.
Your doctor can help you figure out if you’re going through menopause. They can also help you manage menopause symptoms.
Perimenopause means the time leading up to menopause where you may have symptoms. This stage can last anywhere from a few months to up to 10 years, and is a process that may start, stop, and start up again.
Perimenopause usually begins in your 40s, but it can start earlier, too. People who smoke usually start perimenopause 2 years earlier than nonsmokers.
The amount of estrogen made by your ovaries starts to change in your 30s and 40s — it can go up and down. You may notice this is happening because your periods begin to change. Changes to periods during perimenopause is common and totally normal.
Some changes you might notice include:
- The time between one period and another changing (either longer or shorter)
- Totally skipping a period
- Bleeding patterns changing during your period (heavier or lighter)
- Bleeding between periods
Changes in menstrual bleeding are pretty normal during perimenopause, but it’s still a good idea to talk with your doctor about them.
You can still get pregnant during perimenopause. If you don’t want to get pregnant, continue using your birth control method for at least a year after you have your last period. Your doctor can talk with you about stopping your birth control method and answer any other questions you have about perimenopause.
Common menopause symptoms:
- Irregular periods: Periods becoming shorter, longer, heavier, lighter. Skipping periods.
- Hot flashes: A hot flash is a sudden, sometimes intense feeling of heat that rushes to your face and upper body. Hot flashes can be really uncomfortable, but they usually only last a few minutes. They can happen a few times a day, a few times a week, or a few times a month.
- Night sweats: Hot flashes that wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Sleep problems: You may have insomnia – trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. You may also start to wake up much earlier than you used to.
- Vaginal changes: The lining of your vagina may become thinner, drier or less stretchy.
- Urinary or bladder infections: You may have to pee more often or get more frequent urinary tract or bladder infections.
- Mood changes: Hormone changes can make you feel anxious, irritable, and tired.
- Weaker bones: Your bones will probably weaken during menopause. If it’s really bad, it can lead to osteoporosis after menopause. Making sure to get plenty of calcium and vitamin D can help.
Hot flashes can be a pretty unpleasant symptom of perimenopause and menopause. We don’t totally understand the cause of hot flashes.
Most people describe a hot flash as a sudden hot feeling that spreads all over your body – but mostly the upper body, like your arms, chest, and face. You may also get sweaty, and your fingers may tingle and your heart may beat faster. A typical hot flash usually lasts anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes.
Hot flashes at night are called night sweats. Sometimes they can get so severe that you soak your sheets with sweat.
Hot flashes are super common. More than 3 out of 4 people have them while going through perimenopause and menopause.
Nothing will make hot flashes stop completely, but there are some things you can do to help relieve them. You can try:
- regular exercise
- keeping a healthy weight
- taking a cold shower during a hot flash or before bed
- cooling down the temperature of your living space (especially your bedroom)
- cutting out caffeine, hot drinks, and spicy foods
- wearing thin layers of cotton clothes (so that you can remove layers during hot flashes)
- keeping a record of when you have hot flashes to help you figure out if anything is triggering them
- Hormone therapy (replacing the hormones that your body stops making when you’re going through perimenopause and menopause – estrogen and progesterone).
Natural and herbal medicines may help with hot flashes. Some helpful ones are isoflavones, black cohosh, flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil, vitamin C and vitamin E. You could also opt for hijama and acupuncture.