The cessation of a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle marks the end of their reproductive years and the onset of menopause. This typically starts in a woman’s late 30s or 40s, and the first phase is called perimenopause, meaning “around menopause.”
This first phase of menopause is marked by erratic periods and possibly heavier-than-normal bleeding, which are caused by irregular fluctuations in the hormonal levels of estrogen. This phase is different for every woman, and it has no clearly defined beginning or end.
Perimenopause in the Beginning
The gradual changes in a woman’s period that occur during perimenopause are frequently attributed to external factors, like children leaving home, the death of one’s parents, or stress from other life events. But perimenopause is the first of a three-stage process that women undergo during menopause.
This first stage typically begins 8 to 10 years before menopause, and the ovaries begin to produce less and less estrogen. This usually results in irregular periods.
A woman may skip her period altogether one month, followed by a few months of regular periods in a row, and then skip again for one or two months. There is often no clear pattern, as it depends on the woman’s fluctuating levels of estrogen.
During the final year or two, estrogen levels will decrease more and more quickly, thereby making periods grow closer and closer together. Pregnancy is still possible during perimenopause and, unless it is desired, doctors recommend practicing birth control until a full year after final menopause.
What Happens During Menopause?
The actual stage of menopause typically affects women between the ages of 45 to 55. It is characterized by hot flashes, night sweats, and emotional changes like irritability and depression, and it is clinically diagnosed by the absence of a menstrual period for a full 12 months.
Symptoms that began during perimenopause may become more prevalent and may affect a woman much more, because their estrogen production is halting. Hormone-replacement (estrogen) therapy may help minimize a woman’s symptoms; if the doctor recommends this treatment and the patient agrees, starting this therapy sooner rather than later is the best approach per general medical consensus.
How the Body Changes After Menopause
Following menopause, the woman’s monthly periods will stop entirely. The symptoms, such as hot flashes, may settle down considerably.
However, the drastic reduction in estrogen levels means a woman is now at an increased risk of age-related diseases like osteoporosis and heart disease. Many women also report symptoms like a racing heart rate (for no apparent reason), headaches, joint and muscle pains, difficulty concentrating, thinning hair, and urinary urgency.
If a woman chose to begin hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause, they can continue taking it. For women who did not, however, the risks of starting it at this stage can potentially outweigh the benefits – recent studies have shown that HRT can be a trigger for serious complications.
Various competing views exist about HRT in the years following menopause, and everything should be discussed between a woman and her OB/GYN on an individual basis.
OB/GYN Clinic in Syracuse
If you or a family member is experiencing symptoms of menopause, contact University OB/GYN Associates. We can discuss the options available and potential methods to minimize symptoms.
Please call us today at (315) 464-5162 or request a consultation online, and let us partner with you in this journey of total health and wellness for a lifetime.