To many women, menopause is a bit of a mystery. The symptoms, their severity and the number of years leading up to it are different for everyone. Some sail through it with ease, and others need a little support. To get through menopause with minimal surprises, read on.
Q. What is menopause and when can I expect it?
A. 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.
Q. How does menstruation change before and during menopause?
A. Perimenopause is the gradual period of change leading into menopause. It can last anywhere from two to 12 years and is caused by the ovaries’ slowed production of estrogen, which makes hormones fluctuate and causes physical changes. During this time, your period may become irregular and inconsistent. It could be heavy one time and really light the next, really short this month and longer than normal another month. It’s a good idea to keep pads with you, just in case.
Q. Can menopause happen earlier in life?
A. 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.
Q. My mom was really upset about menopause. Why?
A. Menopause can be a time when a woman mourns the loss of her fertility and youth, and worries about aging and illness. The good news is that society and medical communities 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 a rite of passage every woman should be able to emerge from with a sense of renewal and anticipation of a new life to come.
Q. Is there anything to look forward to about menopause?
A. Definitely. How about no more periods, ever? That means no more PMS, cysts, fibroids or worries about pregnancy. And there’s more good news. Overall, postmenopausal women are the 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.