Written by Dr. Andrea Pinto MD - Written on September 21, 2021
Menopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause are all natural stages in a woman’s life. And although there are some benefits — such as not having to worry about an unplanned pregnancy anymore —, they also come with hormonal changes that can cause a wide range of symptoms. Menopause is different for every woman; while some women only experience mild symptoms, others can feel like their quality of life has significantly decreased during this time.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about menopause symptoms at STDWatch.com.
Menopause can be defined as the time period after a woman stops having her periods, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s diagnosed once a woman hasn’t had a period in 12 continuous months. On average, women go through menopause in their late 40s to early 50s. However, there are medical conditions and treatments that can cause menopause much earlier than this, such as chemotherapy and surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy).
Natural menopause doesn’t happen all at once; instead, hormone levels decrease gradually over a period of time that can last 7 to 14 years. This is called perimenopause, and women can experience many symptoms of menopause during this time. The first sign of perimenopause can be irregular periods or spotting.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of menopause and perimenopause can include:
- Hot flashes
- Night flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Painful sex (dyspareunia)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Urinary urgency or incontinence
- Breast tenderness
- Mood changes
- Dry skin/mouth/eyes
- Heart palpitations
- Memory and concentration problems
- Weight gain
- Hair loss or thinning
- Lower libido
- Increased facial hair
In addition to these symptoms, the hormonal changes caused by menopause can also lead to an increase in different health risks. Female sex hormones play a protective role over many aspects of your health, and they help regulate different processes. Once your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop during menopause, this effect decreases and different areas of your health could be affected.
According to the University of Michigan, the decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone can increase your risk of conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
What causes menopause?
After menopause, your levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease significantly and your body stops ovulating. Your levels of testosterone — yes, women also produce some testosterone! — also decrease gradually as you get older. As a result of these hormonal changes, your menstrual cycle will cease and you won’t be able to get pregnant anymore.
However, these hormones affect much more than just your reproductive organs, which is why menopause can lead to such a wide range of symptoms. According to the Endocrine Society and the Society for Endocrinology, estrogen and progesterone play a role in many different processes inside a woman’s body, including:
- Maintaining the health and balance of the reproductive system
- Controlling the menstrual cycle
- Regulating your metabolism and energy consumption
- Protecting bone health
- Managing your cholesterol levels
- Playing a role in neurotransmission
Although menopause isn’t a disease, there are different treatments that can be used to relieve its symptoms and reduce health risks associated with the hormonal changes that it causes.
The main treatment for menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can contain estrogen or a combination of estrogen/progesterone. HRT is available in several different forms of administration, including oral pills, topical patches, vaginal rings and creams, among others. Your doctor can help you choose the right HRT for you depending on the severity of your symptoms, and your personal and family history.
According to the North American Menopause Society, the benefits of hormone replacement therapy include:
- Reducing symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness
- Improving vaginal atrophy/atrophic vaginitis
- Preventing the development osteoporosis
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
If you’re experiencing significant mood changes, anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems during menopause, your doctor could also recommend visiting a therapist. Although menopause is a natural process, it can be overwhelming to deal with its symptoms, and professional help can be very useful to make this transition easier for you.
Lifestyle changes that can help you stay healthy during menopause include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet rich in whole foods, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables
- Practice different relaxation methods
- Improve your sleep hygiene
- Quit smoking
- Seek support from your loved ones
Menopause comes with many changes, and different women can experience a wide range of symptoms during this stage of life. Some of the manifestations of menopause can be uncomfortable, but fortunately, there are treatments and guidance available to help you navigate this time.
You can learn more about other female health topics by visiting these articles and many more at STDWatch.com:
- What does bleeding after pap smear mean?
- HPV and pregnancy: Everything you need to know
- STDs in women: Here’s everything you need to know
- High progesterone symptoms
- Menopause - mayoclinic.org
- Menopause, Perimenopause, and Postmenopause - my.clevelandclinic.org
- Menopause and Your Risk for Other Health Concerns - uofmhealth.org
- Estrogen - hormone.org
- Progesterone - yourhormones.info
- Hormone Therapy: Benefits & Risks - menopause.org