In natural menopause, women go through a stage called perimenopause where their body starts undergoing hormonal fluctuations that eventually culminate in full menopause. During this period, ovulation and menstruation still occur, but the changes the body is undergoing often trigger uncomfortable side effects. Symptoms often start when a women reaches her late thirties and can last up to 15 years. In the US, the average age of full menopause (12 months without a period) is 51, with a normal range of 48-55.
Common symptoms of menopause during this period are listed below. The list of symptoms is long and in general, no woman experiences every one of these.
- Menstruation Changes – Irregular periods are often the first sign of menopause. While 10% of women simply stop menstruating one day and never have another period again, the remaining 90% of women experience 4 to 8 years of irregular periods … [read more]
- Hot Flashes – Hot flashes are the most common menopause related symptom. Hot flashes (or sometimes called hot flushes) are sudden bursts of heat radiating from the chest upwards to the shoulders, neck, and head … [read more]
- Sleep Disturbances – Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) is often experienced around menopause. This is particularly the case if the insomnia is trigger by hot flashes that … [read more]
- Cogntive Symptoms – During perimenopause, many women report central nervous symptoms such as headaches, changes in memory and concentration, depression, mood swings, and anxiety … [read more]
- Vaginal Dryness – As women near menopause, the decreases in estrogen levels may cause changes in the tissues of the vulva and the lining of the vagina … [read more]
- Urinary Concerns - As we age, urinary symptoms such as incontinence (leakage) become more and more likely. This is particularly the case for women who are much more prone to urine leakage then men. Up to 30% of women in midlife experience urinary incontinence … [read more]
- Changes in Sexual Function – Many perimenopausal women report decreased sexual desire. Scientists are still studying the relationship between menopause and libido, however, it is thought that the decrease of both estrogen and androgen hormone levels decrease desire. Additionally, secondary effects of menopause such as hot flashes, sleep deprivation, and vaginal dryness often contribute to loss of sexual desire. Currently, the only prescription medication containing both androgen and estrogen is Estratest, an oral tablet.
- Decreased Fertility – during perimenopause, women are still able to conceive but their chances are severely diminished.
- Weight Gain – particularly in the abdominal region
- Heart palpitations – rapid irregular heart beats have been linked to diminished levels of estrogen
- Skin Changes – decreases in estrogen contribute to the loss of collagen and skin thickness
- Eye Changes – some women report chronically dry eyes and increased light sensitivity after menopause
- Osteoporosis – decreases in estrogen are a prime cause for weakening of the bones. Read more about osteoporosis.
Diagnosis of Menopause
Generally, the symptoms you exhibit will be enough for your doctor to diagnose menopause. However, in certain circumstances, your doctor can may use two simple tests to diagnosis menopause and determine the stage that you are in. Blood tests are used to check the level of follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) in your system. FSH levels dramatically rise when your ovaries begin to shut down. In addition, you doctor may check for vaginal atrophy and decreased estrogen levels by taking a pap-smear like swab of your vaginal walls