How can I know if I am approaching Menopause?

Menopause

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when the normal cycles of the ovaries and menstruation cease to take place.  Often, a woman won't officially know that menopause has started until after the periods have stopped for up to 12 months.  Generally speaking, menopause arrives when a woman is around 50 years old, but can start as young as 40 years old. 

Regular cycles can continue up to the beginning of menopause,  however they may change in their duration or amount of flow.  

What exactly is happening with menopause?

As a woman ages, her ovaries become less responsive to what regularly stimulates them.  There is a luteinizing hormone involved, as well as a follicle stimulating hormone.  These are secreted by the pituitary gland.  What ends up happening, is the ovaries give off less and less estrogen and progesterone.  This causes the egg release, also known as ovulation, to eventually stop. 

Once in a while a woman can have what is called premature menopause.  This is defined as occurring before the age of 40 years old.  The possible reasons for early menopause include a predisposition to auto immune disorders.  This can cause antibodies to be produced that can damage a number of different glands, and ovaries.   Smoking has been known to be a possible factor in early menopause as well. 

The Main Symptoms of Menopause

The time before menopause is often called perimenopause, or technically it is termed the climacteric.  During this time, and depending on the individual woman, symptoms may be severe, moderate, mild or next to non existent. 

Hot flashes are common and affect about 75 percent of the women going through menopause.  When a hot flash hits, it can last anywhere from about 30 seconds, to about 5 minutes in length.  A woman might experience red and warm skin on her head and neck (a flushed feeling), and sometimes may perspire quite a bit.   Its not abnormal to experience these hot flashes for a year.  Some women, about 25 to 50 percent,  can have them for up to 5 years however.  Sometimes the hot flashes are followed by chills. 

Often a woman will experience symptoms that are more along the lines of emotional or psychological symptoms.  These can include fatigue, nervousness insomnia, and irritability.   This is sometimes attributed to a decrease in estrogen levels.  Its also not uncommon to have what is called night sweats.  These sweats can disturb her sleep which doesn't help the irritability and fatigue. 

Once in a while she may have a tingling "pins and needles" sensation, or even feel dizzy.  She may really begin to notice her own heartbeat and it may feel as if it is pounding.  Its not odd to hear about some loss of bladder control or have some inflammation of the bladder or even the vagina.  Sometimes pain during sex can be a problem as there is dryness.  Some women complain that their muscles or joints ache. 

Slender white women in particular, should know the higher risks of getting severe osteoporosis during this time.  Osteoporosis, or a severe thinning of the bones can be a major health hazard.  Other habits may increase the chances of severe osteoporosis, and these include smoking, drinking alcohol, or have low intake of calcium.  Other factors are women who take corticosteroids, or have a sedentary lifestyle. 

Another thing to watch out for is cardiovascular problems, even cardiovascular disease.  This is also due to lower estrogen levels.  Taking estrogen under a doctors care can help women.  Taking enough calcium all along also helps a great deal, as well as keeping active.   Many women have doctors that prescribe a type of estrogen replacement therapy with the goal of replacing the estrogen being lost.  Luckily, this can help to ease many of the above symptoms.  So that is wonderful news! 

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