Recognizing the Four Stages of Menopause
Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life, representing the end of fertility. It is identified as the “final period,” or having gone 12 consecutive months without menstruating. Menopause is a gradual process which usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 60. At this point, the ovaries no longer produce eggs resulting in the gradual decrease of hormone production. The accompanying symptoms that are associated with it include loss of sexual desire and vaginal dryness.
There are typically four stages which occur in the menopausal process: pre-menopause, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Pre-menopause refers to the time in a woman’s life when she is fertile and able to bear children. This would range from the time of the first appearance of menses to the last; however it is more specifically the time just before the transition to menopause. The term “pre-menopause” may also describe premature menopause.
Perimenopause is defined as the period leading up to menopause, usually occurring as early as mid-30’s and well into the 40’s, and can last anywhere from two to ten years. During perimenopause, a woman’s periods may become irregular, and can be lighter or heavier in volume. It is accompanied by a whole host of symptoms such as headaches, hot flashes, mood swings, and memory problems which are caused by physiological changes that are occurring in the body. Fluctuating hormone levels and gradual decline of estrogen production are responsible for most of these symptoms, but there is also an increase in the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which can be measured by a simple blood test.
Answers to Your Questions about Menopause
Q. Is menopause the same for every woman?
A. No, the menopause experience is different for each woman regardless of race, background, environment or culture. Studies have shown that when menopause occurs is dependent on many factors including genetics, diet, lifestyle and social and environmental conditions. Both the age it occurs and symptoms presented vary widely.
Q. Do diet and exercise play a role during menopause?
A. The diet is of utmost importance, especially during menopause. The most recent information reveals that eating fruits and vegetables, adding soy products, flaxseed oil, lima beans, celery, nuts, seeds, green tea and foods high in calcium can help alleviate unpleasant symptoms and also lower your risk for osteoporosis. Weight gain is also typical during this period, so regular exercise will increase your chances of maintaining a healthy weight and also improve cardiovascular function. You are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease at this time due to the reduction in estrogen. Research has also shown that certain herbal supplements and vitamins added to your regimen will help strengthen your body and ease hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia, and uncomfortable bloating. It is recommended that one eat five small meals instead of three large meals to keep your blood sugar level and metabolism balanced during the day.
Q. What if I experience early or premature menopause?
A. Women who experience early or premature menopause due to disease or hysterectomy (for example) may have to deal with more intense symptoms which could disrupt their daily life. In this case, psychological problems may indeed accompany the physical. It is important to seek professional help and support through this transition.
Q. Will all my symptoms of perimenopause disappear when I am in full menopause?
A. It is unlikely. Each woman experiences perimenopause and menopause differently, and symptoms could persist for several years after your final period. A good guideline is that many women follow a similar experience as their mother, so speaking to her about her experiences can help you deal with yours.
Q. What is most important thing I can do?
A. Accept that menopause is part of the natural course of a woman’s life and will be easier if you recognize and embrace it as an opportunity to take care of yourself to live a long and happy life.
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