By Athena Alexander
Menopause is a natural occurrence when a woman has not experienced a menstrual cycle for twelve consecutive months and can no longer naturally become pregnant. Normally, this happens for women around the age of 45-55, but it can happen before or after this age range as well. Regardless of your age, it is important to understand menopause and its symptoms and causes.
Menopause is a different experience for everyone. Symptoms, causes, start time, and end time can all vary from person to person. There are three phases of the menopause cycle: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
This phase is the beginning of the menopausal cycle when a woman’s estrogen levels begin to drop. Many people confuse perimenopause with premenopausal, but these are very different terms. Premenopause is when someone experiences no symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, while perimenopause includes the experience of symptoms. This phase can begin anywhere from ten years before menopause begins. The average woman starts this phase four years before her periods stop. The most common symptoms of perimenopause include:
- Changes in your period cycle/irregular periods/increased PMS
- Hot flashes
- Unable to sleep
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Increased cholesterol/heart palpitations
- Concentration difficulties/forgetfulness
- Fertility problems
While in perimenopause, your estrogen levels are slowly dropping, this means that it is still very possible for you to get pregnant during this time. You are unable to get pregnant if your body produces so little estrogen that no eggs are released, and no period occurs. After a year of experiencing no periods, a woman is officially in menopause. An official diagnosis from a doctor is not required. However, if you think you are in perimenopause or menopause, you should reach out to your doctor if spotting, blood clotting during your period, bleeding after intercourse, or much longer or shorter periods occur. Any of these symptoms could be a result of hormonal imbalance, fibroids, or, in worst-case scenarios, cancer. If any of the symptoms discussed above are causing interference in your life, it is best to see a doctor as well!
Everyone’s menopause experience is unique; however, the definition of menopause is the same: menopause is the lack of menstruation for one year. This means that a woman’s ovaries are aging and producing less estrogen and other reproductive hormones. One of the first signs of menopause is a lighter or heavier and less frequent period. The structure that produces and releases eggs, ovarian follicles, become less active.
During this time, many people experience symptoms such as:
- Hot flashes
- Weight gain
- Reduced libido, insomnia
- Hair thinning,
- Problems with memory and focusing.
- Dry skin, mouth, eyes, and vaginal area
- UTIs/increased urination
- Stiff joints/reduced muscle mass
- Increased cholesterol levels
Many women use hormone treatment therapy to resolve these symptoms. People transitioning to a woman, who also use hormone therapy may experience similar symptoms due to the change in hormone levels they are experiencing. This is not menopause but can feel similar.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, try incorporating some daily exercise, quitting smoking, taking supplements, paying attention to your diet, and limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake for some alleviation.
If any symptoms are heavily interfering with your daily life, it is best to seek professional medical help. Many complications can happen during menopause, such as vulvovaginal atrophy, osteoporosis, cataracts, blood vessel disease, or dyspareunia. Although menopause does not require an official diagnosis, it is always best to seek professional help to get a better understanding of what is happening in your body. If you are experiencing these symptoms and are outside the average range of menopause (45-55), it is extremely important to seek medical help.
Postmenopause begins after 12 consecutive months have passed with no period. This is when a woman’s body is officially no longer able to reproduce. Postmenopause is a phase that you will be in for the rest of your life. Many women continue to experience menopausal symptoms. These symptoms are normally less intense and, in some cases, completely disappear. If you are experiencing more intense symptoms, it is important to stay in touch with your doctor. In postmenopause, people are more at risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, vaginal atrophy, and mental health issues. A consistent check-in with your doctor is important to understand what is happening in your body.
Some women experience some vaginal bleeding during postmenopause. Although this is not a common side effect, it is not a sign of fertility. This can occur from the dryness of the vaginal area or can be a sign of a more serious issue such as endometrial hyperplasia, uterine fibroids, infections, or cancer. It is extremely important to go to a doctor if this is a symptom you experience.
The most important thing to remember is that this is a natural process that all women go through. Many of the symptoms included above are inevitable based on genetics and other health predispositions. However, there are many things you can do to create the best vaginal environment possible before entering this phase of your life. Include daily exercise or activity, limit alcohol use, stop smoking, keep a healthy diet, and use non-toxic period products.
UltuCup is a non-toxic menstrual cup that is easy to use and beneficial for your vagina. Made from medical-grade silicone, this cup has no plastic, dyes, colorants, latex, BPA, or rubber. This product promotes healthier periods while helping to maintain vaginal pH levels, preventing dryness and reducing the risks of TSS. Try it today!