Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when she naturally stops menstruating, her ovaries have stopped producing estrogen. The average age at which a woman reaches menopause is 51 years.
In the years leading up to menopause, called perimenopause, the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries will start to fluctuate, usually beginning in a woman’s 40s. This fluctuation commonly results in changes in her menstrual cycle where cycles may become longer or shorter than usual and some periods may be missed altogether. You may notice that your flow becomes lighter or heavier and although these changes are normal during perimenopause, you should still report them to your OBGYN in case they need to address problems of abnormal bleeding.
While some women may experience none of the following symptoms, others may have severe symptoms. Here are the symptoms you will see most often:
A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat that can overcome the upper body and face, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes or longer. Some women have hot flashes a few times a month while others may deal with them several times in a day. Hot flashes that occur during the night (night sweats) may disturb your sleep, leaving you feeling sluggish and tired the following day.
You may find yourself suffering from insomnia during this period or waking up long before your usual time, sometimes caused by night sweats that disrupt your sleep pattern.
As your estrogen levels decrease, you may find that the lining of your vagina has become dryer, thinner, and less elastic which can cause pain during sex, irritation, and an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
Hormone therapy can help to relieve the symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause. Hormone therapy entails taking estrogen sometimes in addition to progestin.
Estrogen can be taken in pill form but it is also available in skin patches, gels, and sprays that are applied to the skin.
There are also antidepressants available to aid with sleep problems and ease hot flashes and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) that act on tissues that respond to estrogen which helps with vaginal dryness and hot flashes as well.
At Tidewater Physicians for Women, we know this period of change can be hard on you and your body which is why we encourage you to discuss your menopausal symptoms with one of our doctors.