Menopause marks the end of a woman’s fertility. But the journey toward menopause can take years and there are no reliable tests to tell you how close you are. Recognizing the signs of menopause can tip you off that you’re nearing this stage of life.
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When Do Menopause Symptoms Start?
Technically, menopause marks a day in your life. It’s a normal part of aging that happens to most women between the ages of 45 and 55. It’s officially diagnosed when you haven’t had a period for a full year.
Perimenopause is the stage before menopause. It can start several years before menopause. Perimenopause is when most women begin to experience menopause symptoms.
During perimenopause, your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and other hormones. Often, hormone levels fluctuate from month to month. These changes trigger symptoms that often intensify as you get closer to menopause.
Postmenopause is the stage after menopause. Menopause symptoms will gradually start to improve, but they can last for a few years into postmenopause.
Signs of Menopause
One of the first signs you might be approaching menopause is a change in your menstrual periods. They might be lighter, heavier, shorter, or longer than usual. It’s common to miss a period, or even several, especially as you get closer to menopause.
For some women, that’s the only sign of menopause they’ll have, until the day their periods finally stop.
However, it’s not unusual to have other symptoms of menopause. And sometimes, they’re severe enough to affect your quality of life. Some of the most common menopause symptoms include:
- Hot flashes (also called hot flushes).
- Problems falling asleep or staying asleep, often due to hot flashes.
- Feeling tired, or having less energy.
- Memory problems.
- Headaches, including migraines.
- Mood changes like depression or irritability.
- Vaginal and urinary tract changes that can cause dryness, pain during sex, or more frequent urinary tract infections.
- Weight gain, especially around your belly.
Hormone changes are to blame for vaginal dryness, sudden headaches, and those infamous hot flashes. And hot flashes are often at the root of other symptoms.
A hot flash feels like a sudden wave of heat that often starts on your face, neck, or chest. It can last for just a minute, or a few minutes. Sometimes, hot flashes are severe enough to disrupt your sleep, which in turn leaves you exhausted, moody, and feeling foggy the next day.
The good news is, hot flashes, along with the sleep-related problems they bring tend to go away after menopause. Vaginal changes are a lasting but often treatable part of menopause. Gradually you’ll return to feeling like a new version of your old self again.
Getting Relief From Menopause Symptoms
Menopause isn’t a disease that needs treatment. Still, if you find your symptoms are impacting your quality of life, talk to your doctor about ways to relieve them. Lifestyle changes often help, but some women may benefit from medications.
These diet and lifestyle measures may help mild hot flashes and sleep problems. They can also reduce the chance of weight gain and improve your energy:
- Dress in light layers that you can remove if you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine. These can trigger a hot flash, and also cause sleep problems.
- Try mind-body practices like yoga or meditation to help you relax and destress.
- Eat a nutritious whole-foods diet, and limit sugar and processed foods to help reduce weight gain.
- Make sure you get regular exercise. It helps you maintain a healthy weight and makes you feel better all around.
- If you smoke cigarettes, quit.
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend medicines for menopause treatment. These can include:
- Low dose birth control.
- Prescription or over the counter medicines or vaginal estrogen creams, tablets, or rings for vaginal dryness.
- Certain antidepressant medicines for hot flashes.
- Hormone replacement therapy.
Using certain medicines for menopause treatment come with risks, so it’s essential to talk to your doctor to weigh the pros and cons.
Menopause is a new stage of life and an important time to connect with your UPMC women’s health care team or the UPMC Magee-Womens Midlife Health Center. By working together, you’ll be more prepared for menopause and a healthy life beyond.
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.