About Perimenopause & Menopause



What is menopause? (And what is perimenopause?)

No two women experience menopause or perimenopause the same. Menopause occurs because of the winding-down of the female cycle, as the hormonal system moves from its reproductive function to "maintenance" for the rest of your life.

Think of your life in phases: you start with infancy, move onto childhood, and then reach puberty. At this point, your hormones start raging, your body feels like it doesn't belong to you, and your moods may abruptly swing from silly to dejected. So years later, if you're experiencing menopausal symptoms, it may certainly seem like you've been there before! However, the years surrounding menopause can be a time to define your own experiences and take control.

Stages of Menopause

The perimenopause (the months and sometimes years before menopause occurs), menopause, and the post-menopause afterward bring on many changes in your body, mind, and emotions. Learn more about this transition, symptoms, and the stages here.

When you reach your early-to-mid forties, this cycle begins to slow down, and the hormonal system isn't as regular as it used to be. Perimenopause ("peri" means "time before") is a time when you can begin to learn all you can about your changing body and mind.

You may begin to experience the following symptoms of menopause:

  • Your periods may become irregular, or you may find that it's harder to get pregnant.
  • You may have your first hot flashes, as your hormonal system pumps harder in an attempt to keep stimulating the dwindling supply of eggs in your ovaries.
  • You may have emotional symptoms, like moodiness or anxiety.
  • You may experience a drop in energy and an increase in tiredness.

Menopause occurs when there are very few eggs left to be fertilized, and the output of estrogen and progesterone is so small that the eggs are not stimulated to ovulate. For most women, this happens in their early 50s.

For other women, some external event brings on menopause:

  • Bilateral oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries) puts the body into menopause immediately because there are no ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone. A partial oophorectomy has a less severe impact on the body because only one ovary is removed.
  • Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) speeds up menopause by approximately 2-3 years.
  • Chemotherapy for cancer or pelvic radiation may damage the ovaries so they can no longer produce hormones. However, some younger women who are treated for cancer may begin to menstruate and ovulate again.

When you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months, you have gone through menopause. After menopause, you no longer need to be concerned about birth control or having monthly periods. This is a milestone for every menopausal woman, and with all its inconvenience, it definitely has a plus side. It means you have passed through an important transition and are now ready to meet the challenges of the next half of your life - hopefully with more self-awareness and self-confidence than you had when you were younger!

It's common for women to spend decades taking care of everything and everyone but themselves - a husband, a boss, children, pets, a home - but this is a time for you to make a conscious choice to discover what it is you really want out of life. This is your moment to re-establish your principles, your priorities, and your passions.

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