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Understanding Perimenopause and Menopause

Menopause is something that every woman will experience if she lives beyond 50 or 60, but it is something that doesn’t get talked about enough. Because of that many women don’t understand what is happening to their bodies when menopause occurs. It also means that many women suffer from the symptoms in silence or jump on the chance to take hormone replacement therapy to get back to “normal”.

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Disclaimer: This information is provided for informational purposes only. I am not a physician. This information is not intended to be medical advice and is to be used at your own risk and own judgement.

When I went through menopause, it seemed like I had nobody to talk to about what was happening. I went through menopause fairly early and had younger friends so I didn’t want to age myself by talking about it. Even my physician had me undergo tests to see why I had heavy irregular periods and the M word never even came up.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is defined as the time when your menstrual periods have stopped for one year. You no longer ovulate so are not fertile.

The average age of menopause is 51, and it usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Early menopause is considered to be before 40 years of age.

Menopause is the end of your reproductive years, the start of a new stage of life. For some women, this stage can be longer than the reproductive years, but it is stage that is often ignored or treated like a disease.

What is Perimenopause?

Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause. It typically lasts four to eight years. This is the time you will see the effects of your changing hormones. The first sign you may notice is irregular menstrual periods.

Other symptoms of peri menopause vary, but the most common symptoms are:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

These symptoms will come and go depending on hormone levels. Many of these can continue past menopause. For some women they will ease.

How do hormones change during perimenopause and menopause?

We generally think of perimenopause and menopause as a gradual transition, with hormone levels dropping in a nice even fashion. That is not the case. The chart below shows a typical drop of hormones.

 hormones during menopause

The two hormones we are most concerned with are progesterone and estrogen. About the time that perimenopause starts, your progesterone levels start to drop. Estrogen levels remain steady for much of perimenopause and then become erratic, sometimes even increasing to premenopausal levels. This creates a condition of estrogen dominance for many women.

Other hormones also change during this time. Testosterone levels drop gradually as we get older. Dropping estrogen and progesterone levels can affect hormones like the thyroid hormones.

Surgical menopause

Women who have had their ovaries removed have had surgical menopause. This is often combined with a hysterectomy, but not always. The ovaries produce most of our progesterone and estrogen prior to menopause. But rather than the somewhat onset of symptoms that occurs with natural menopause, the symptoms are usually more drastic.

With natural menopause, the ovaries will continue to produce a small amount of these hormones. With the removal of the ovaries you only have the small amounts produced by other glands.

How to treat symptoms of menopause and perimenopause

Every woman will have a unique experience with menopause and perimenopause. Some women will experience greater symptoms than others. Speak with your physician about any symptoms that concern you. The list below gives some ideas that may help to relieve some of the symptoms:

Medical interventions:

  • Hormone replacement therapy (including bio-identical therapy)
  • Hormone creams
  • Medications to combat symptoms such as anxiety

Lifestyle modifications:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting consumption of caffeine and alcohol
  • Limiting consumption of sugar
  • Using stress reduction techniques
  • Eating a diet of whole foods
  • Daily exercise

Of course, the lifestyle modifications take longer and are more work. Since I am certified as a personal trainer and nutrition coach, that is my specialty. If you need help relieving hot flashes you can download my free guide or contact me if you would like more information on working with me.

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