The terms menopause and perimenopause are used interchangeably but in general they describe any of the changes experienced just before or after the last period. Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period and confirmed when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months.
What happens during menopause and perimenopause?
Menopause is a natural biological process. As women approach their late 30s, the ovaries start producing less estrogen and progesterone (the hormones that regulate menstruation) and fertility begins to decline. At the age of forty, women may notice periods becoming more erratic and less frequent. By the age of fifty-one (on average) the ovaries eventually stop releasing eggs and periods stop all together.
All women will have their own unique experience of menopause. It is important to consider how symptoms may be impacting your own well-being.
Symptoms of menopause
In the months leading up to menopause women may notice some of the following symptoms
- Hot flashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Irritability and/or mood changes
- Pain during sex (vaginal dryness)
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Night sweats
Should you make an appointment to see your doctor?
For women with light or mild symptoms it is important to know that the symptoms of menopause may disappear on their own. However, if the symptoms mentioned above begin to interfere with your quality of life or interrupt your day-to-day activities then make an appointment to see your doctor. Although the symptoms of menopause are common your quality of life does not have to decline.
Your doctor may be able to prescribe specific treatments to help manage your symptoms. They can also provide additional guidance or counselling in other aspects of your health that may be affected by menopause.
Management options will always be tailored to your own specific needs and personal medical history. Doctors may prescribe one or more of the following:
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – An effective treatment for relieving menopausal hot flashes. This can only be prescribed based on your personal medical history.
- Vaginal cream – for vaginal dryness.
- Low-dose antidepressants -certain antidepressants may decrease menopausal hot flashes.
- Diet and exercise changes.
- Natural supplements – there is limited evidence that some natural supplements such as Soy and Vitamin E may help with symptoms. However, speak to your doctor first before starting anything new.
Staying healthy after menopause
Post-menopausal women are more vulnerable to certain medical conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis. To help combat this it is recommended that all women (regardless of age) continue to follow the basic rules of good health such as:
- Healthy diet -Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D to keep bones strong. Alongside the aging process, bones get less dense and more susceptible to fractures.
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol use.
- Exercise – Keep active (i.e., walking, aerobics, yoga). Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Regular exercise will go a long way towards helping to keep your risk low.
- Well-woman exams -Book your well-woman exam to ensure that you’re getting regular check-ups.
As with any major life change, going through menopause can leave some women feeling a little unbalanced and unsure of what to expect. The symptoms of menopause are unpredictable and can last from a few months to years after your last period. Wherever you are in the process, our doctors are here to help. By providing guidance and management options we can help you navigate some of the trickier aspects of health when it comes to menopause.