A woman’s life is riddled with hormonal changes. From the moment puberty begins, the rise and fall of hormone levels result in the ever-changing menstrual cycle leading up to menopause.
Menopause is the time a woman stops being reproductive. But it doesn’t occur suddenly. Signs and symptoms lead up to it as the reproductive hormones gradually deplete. A woman will likely go through this process from age 45 to 55.
Nonetheless, the average age for American women to reach menopause is 51 years. This essentially refers to when the woman finally stops seeing her menses. Black and Latina women typically experience menopause at 49 years on average.
At menopause, the ovaries lose their capacity to ovulate, not that eggs become absent.
Signs and symptoms of menopause
When you start experiencing the following symptoms in combination, you’re most likely going through menopause:
- Low libido and vagina dryness
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Pain during intercourse
- Irregular or absence of periods
- Hair thinning or loss
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Sore or tender breasts
About 75% of women experience hot flashes during menopause.
Note that every woman is different, and you might experience menopause symptoms a bit differently. Some women also experience the symptoms even up to 12 years after menstruation finally stops.
Perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
Perimenopause is the period leading up to menopause when menstrual flow begins to be irregular and sometimes late.
Menopause is a complete absence of menstruation for a year.
Postmenopause is the period after menstruation has finally stopped, and menopausal symptoms may still be experienced.
Navigating the changes as the years roll by
In your 30s
Every woman is different, and some start experiencing hormonal changes in their 30s and 40s. From insomnia to irritability, the symptoms can be easily misconstrued for something else. In addition, it’s difficult to tell because not all the symptoms — such as hot flashes — will occur.
Hormonal changes as you approach 40 are a normal part of the aging process. The body begins to create less progesterone, a hormone required to support pregnancy. When progesterone levels fall in your 30s, you’ll start to experience the signs of menopause.
The period when hormone levels are falling is a time when the woman becomes prone to some health conditions like fibroids and ovarian/breast cysts.
What you can do
You can reduce the symptoms of depleting progesterone by lowering your sugar and caffeine intake, resting, and exercising sufficiently.
You can also use progesterone therapy to treat fibroids and cysts that may surface as the hormone levels fall.
The procedure comes with its pros and cons. However, carrying out hormone testing for women can help monitor your situation to determine the safety and efficacy of the procedure.
In your 40s
Women who do not enter perimenopause in their late 30s will likely reach it in their mid-40s.
How long you spend in perimenopause varies, but it usually lasts around 2.5 years.
Women tend to gain weight during this time and have trouble sleeping. Insomnia is actually a leading cause of women seeking help during perimenopause. Hot flashes and irregular periods characterize the later years of perimenopause.
What you can do
An intrauterine device (IUD) can help with irregular bleeding during perimenopause. In women who have early menopause, birth control pills could be used to provide estrogen and progesterone. However, this treatment depends on the woman’s general health and whether or not she is still menstruating at all.
Low-dose antidepressants can also help to manage hot flashes.
In your 50s
Expect to reach menopause in your early 50s. It is confirmed that a woman has reached menopause when she has missed her period for 12 straight months. This is because estrogen, which has been gradually depleting, has now reached a level where it can no longer support ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries.
You’ll typically experience hot flashes, low libido, night sweats, and short-term memory issues at this point.
What you can do
Top medical associations recommend hormone replacement therapy for treating menopausal women. Healthy women up to age 59 or within 10 years after reaching menopause can use the treatment to reduce the severe symptoms of menopause.
How close you are to menopause matters when having hormone replacement therapy. So if you’re considering the procedure, first ensure you carry out hormone testing. The closer you are to menopause, the more effective the procedure will be.
Having known what to expect as you go through menopause, you might ask, “when would the entire symptoms stop?” The answer is it depends. While some women will feel nothing as soon as their periods finally stop, some experience hot flashes and night sweats for up to 4 years after that.
Going through your family history can also help you know what to expect. And if you’re going for hormone replacement therapy, consult with a physician well-versed in this field.