What is menopause?
Menopause is defined as the phase of a woman’s life when her menstrual cycle stops (“meno” = menstruation, ”pause” = stop). Medically, a woman is in menopause once she has not gotten her period for one year. The beginning of menopause means that you can no longer conceive; hormone production from your ovaries has ceased.
When does it start?
Technically, menopause begins if a year has passed without a period. But as for when you can expect this change to happen, menopause usually occurs in a woman’s late 40s or early 50s. Of course, it is different for everyone - it all depends on when your period first began, and your body’s unique biology - but this is typically when you can expect your menstruation to stop and menopause to begin.
Although we say “menopause” colloquially as a catch-all for women who have gone through menopause, it is actually just that moment of not having menstruation for a year. Perimenopause is the phase leading up to menopause, and post-menopause is the lifetime after (and this is likely what you think of when a woman says she is “menopausal”).
How will I know it is coming?
Peri-menopause is the period before menopause fully sets in. Your period becomes irregular and spotty, before finally ceasing altogether (indicating full-on menopause). Peri-menopause typically happens in someone’s mid to late 40s, and lasts between one and four years.
How long does it last?
Menopause is the singular moment (the “tipping point” you could say) after a person has not menstruated for a year - so in that sense, menopause is quite quick!
Post-menopause, then, is the natural phase of a person’s life after they can no longer conceive. This lasts forever. However, the symptoms of menopause (as someone enters “post-menopause”) tend to get less severe and less frequent after a few years.
How will my body change during menopause?
During menopause, there is a big drop in the amount of estrogen in your body. This will have several impacts on your physical health. For example:
- Decrease in bone density. The lower levels of estrogen in your body prevents calcium from being absorbed into your bones as efficiently. This can lead to osteoporosis, so taking calcium supplements and eating foods rich in calcium is a must to prevent fractures and breaks.
- Less flexible arteries, leading to potential heart disease. Watching your weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease postmenopause.
- Weight gain. Both the change in hormones plus natural aging and body changes may lead to weight gain. As long as you stay active and take care of yourself, you shouldn’t experience any dangerous side effects due to weight gain.
- Thinner, looser skin. As you age (and thus enter post-menopause), the collagen of your skin depletes, leading to thinner skin. Not only does this result in the visible signs (like the dreaded wrinkles) but it impacts the skin all over your body, including your intimate area. It’s important to moisturize with lotions specifically formulated for your skin to combat this.
How will menopause impact my mental health?
One well-known side effect of menopause is mood swings. This can have an obvious impact on mental health, although mood swings tend to calm down after a while. Menopause can also exacerbate depression, anxiety, irritability, and focus issues. If you are struggling, speak with your doctor about ways to mitigate the impact of menopause on your mental health.
What common side effects can I expect?
Everyone knows at least a few of the most common side effects associated with menopause. Some things you should expect when you begin menopause:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
What should I expect when I’m having a hot flash?
Hot flashes may be the most notorious side effect of menopause, with 75% of women reporting this symptom during menopause. This is a sudden and sometimes intense warmth in the upper body, which can be uncomfortable or alarming - although it is normal. To cut down on your risk of triggering a hot flash, avoid spicy food, alcohol, smoking, and hot weather (as much as you can!). Breathing exercises, loose-fitting clothes, and a small fan can help you through it.
Will I experience discomfort during sex?
The drop in estrogen in one’s body during menopause can lead to vaginal dryness, with an extra side effect of discomfort during sex if one isn’t properly lubricated before intercourse. You can read our blog on vaginal dryness for more information, but the short story is: moisturize regularly to prevent tearing, use lubricant when the time comes for intercourse, and take it slow.
Can I go through menopause after a hysterectomy?
Since a hysterectomy removes your uterus, and typically leaves your ovaries intact, you will still technically go through menopause. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you may not know you’re even going through menopause unless you experience hot flashes! A blood test can also be done if you’re unsure.
Does menopause increase my risk of breast cancer?
No, menopause does not increase your risk of cancer. However, aging, in general, can increase one’s risk for breast cancer. Also, menopause is a good sign that you may need to get checked more regularly to ensure you’re healthy.
Increased risks and screenings?
Since menopause occurs in tandem with aging, your body is already due for some screenings. Once you enter menopause, you should get checked regularly. These screenings include:
- Pap test
- HPV test
- Bone mass tests
- Blood pressure screenings
- Other blood tests for cholesterol and sugar levels
How do I treat my symptoms of menopause?
Since menopause (and its symptoms) is caused by a decrease in estrogen, hormone therapy is used to treat symptoms of menopause. You can read in-depth about these treatments here, but in short, they include:
- Estrogen replacement pills
- Estrogen skin patches
- Estrogen creams, gels, and sprays
- Estrogen vaginal suppositories, rings, and creams
Are there any non-hormonal treatments?
Yes, if you are concerned about using estrogen as a treatment, you can also make some lifestyle changes that may reduce your discomfort during this period as well. Pursuing weight loss, exercise, the comfort of cooler temperatures, and the avoidance of food that triggers symptoms can help reduce the effects of menopause.
Are there any benefits to menopause?
Yes, actually! Although you typically hear about the stressful parts of menopause, there are some perks! There are the obvious things such as not needing to worry about having your period anymore and not needing to take birth control (although you can still get pregnant during perimenopause, so don’t stop birth control until you know you are fully in menopause). But there are also some less obvious things. Generally, women have a positive outlook on menopause, and psychologists have reported that women going through menopause “have increased ‘clarity, decisiveness, emotional intelligence,’ and other positives.”
In conclusion, menopause is a natural and unavoidable phase of life for anyone with ovaries. We want you to know what to expect, but also you should know not to fear what comes with aging. Aging can be quite beautiful and exciting. And there are many items available to make this transition much more comfortable for you.
Using a hormone-free intimate revitalizing cream like REJUVENATE is particularly beneficial if you suffer from dryness because of menopause or peri-menopause. Rejuvenate provides moisturizing and protective properties, without the risks posed by estrogen creams designed for the area. A pea-sized amount of cream brings with it hydration, protection, plumping and has a tightening effect to the vulva and pubic skin. Using Rejuvenate during peri-menopause and menopause will help retain the moisture and elasticity you’re used to in your intimate areas, allowing you to brave menopause in comfort.