Menopause is one of those moments in a woman’s life they often dread the most. Sudden changes to your body, such as irregular periods, vaginal dryness, and thinning of your hair and dry skin, not to mention the endless night sweats, sleeping problems, and emotional and mood changes you experience are common events that women endure as they enter menopause.
Each year, there are over one million women in the United States who experience menopause. Despite all the advancements in modern healthcare and the collaboration of technological tools, very little is known about the natural health effects that occur during this time of a woman’s life, according to research published by the National Institute of Aging.
While menopause is one of those things that you can’t avoid, seeing that it’s an inevitable process, and simply another one of lives given displeasures, being apprehensive about entering menopause can cause a dent in your self-esteem and overall self-confidence as a person.
Understanding Menopause: Knowing the Facts
While we’ve all heard of menopause, understanding what happens to your body during this part of your life will help you better navigate barriers, and better equip you with the knowledge of how to deal with sudden discomfort you may experience.
For starters, menopause is a natural occurrence, and nearly every woman will experience this during some part of their life. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that menopause typically marks the end of a woman's menstrual cycle.
Menopause can take place in your 40s or 50s, with the average age in the U.S. being around 51 years. A woman can be diagnosed with menopause after she’s gone 12 months without any menstrual period.
Unfortunately, menopause takes time and can last anywhere between seven and 14 years, although this might be different for each person.
On top of this, women might experience irregular periods during perimenopause, or just before their last menstrual cycle. Menstrual periods might be shorter, or start at different monthly cycles, in some cases, you might even skip one month or several months before suddenly starting a new cycle again.
Changes in period cycles could mean that you may experience menstrual cycles closer together for a few months at a time. Despite the irregularities, women can still fall pregnant during this time of their lives.
Although fertility typically stops between five and ten years before menopause starts, there are instances where some women have fallen pregnant during menopause.
While the chances of this happening are slightly lower, researchers suggest that if you experience irregular menstrual periods, and are approaching pre-menopause, you consult with a physician or take a pregnancy test.
Symptoms of Menopause
Feeling hot and sweaty during the day? Struggling to sleep, or have a consistent sleeping cycle? Noticing a change in your body, such as faster weight gain or the loss of breast fullness?
These and other symptoms are all common traits that many women may experience during menopause. Other symptoms such as vaginal dryness, also known as vaginal atrophy; chills; night sweats; slower metabolism; dry skin; thinning hair or hair loss; and reduction in breast fullness are all among things you may encounter during menopause.
Women are also likely to experience a sudden change in their moods and emotional behavior. Studies indicate that around four in ten women who are in perimenopause may experience very similar mood changes similar to that experienced during menstrual periods or PMS.
On top of this, women may experience higher levels of depression. The feeling of being disconnected from others, feelings of hopelessness, crying more than usual, or losing interest in hobbies or daily activities are all part of the emotional changes women undergo during menopause.
Additionally, a few studies have indicated that women may have an increase in anxiety symptoms during perimenopause and in postmenopausal women.
Other more severe symptoms related to menopause can include urinary incontinence, cardiovascular disease, risk of breast cancer, risk for heart disease, and the sudden feeling of weight gain, high blood pressure, or painful intercourse.
Keep in mind that most of these symptoms occur throughout the menopausal stage, and in some instances, some women may experience different menopause symptoms related to their physical health throughout the years of premature menopause or natural menopause.
The Good Side of Menopause
Something to remember is that menopause does not mean the end of womanhood. While many women tend to feel apprehensive about entering menopause, there is still a lot of time left during and after menopause for them to do the things they’ve always wanted to experience.
In fact, in the United States, the life expectancy of women is 79.9 years, and for men 73.2 years, according to the most recent statistics published by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
This would mean that even if you begin to experience menopausal symptoms around the age of 51 - the average age women enter menopause in the U.S. - you will still have at least another 30 years or more left to enjoy all the pleasures life has to offer.
While we tend to focus on the not-so-good side of menopause, we often overlook some of the positives that happen during this time of our lives.
Decrease in Menstrual-Related Symptoms
One of the first things that you may experience as you begin to enter menopause is that you will no longer experience symptoms related to menstrual periods, including physical, emotional, and mental symptoms.
Physical Symptoms Include:
- Excessive cramping
- Headaches of menstrual period migraines
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Back pain or backache
- Feeling bloated
- Tender or swollen breasts
Emotional or Mental Symptoms:
- Feeling irritable or hostile behavior
- Feeling fatigued
- Mood swings
- Tension, anxiety, or increased feelings of sadness
- Memory problems or concentration problems
- Decreased libido or interest in engaging in sexual activity
While it’s not to say that all or any of these symptoms will no longer occur during the menopausal stage of your life, experts advise that you consult with a medical or healthcare professional if you experience elevated levels of any of these symptoms during menstrual periods or menopause.
Take A Look At Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Facts and Symptoms:
No More Periods
After all these years, you can finally feel a sense of relief knowing that you will no longer have to endure a tedious monthly menstrual period cycle.
The end of your regular menstrual cycle marks the beginning of your menopause and is considered to be a hallmark moment in many women’s lives, as they begin to enter a new era of womanhood.
As you begin to approach age of menopause, you will typically enter a phase called perimenopause, something that shouldn’t be confused with premenopause. Perimenopause can occur during the early to late 40s and can last around four years. During this time you may still experience menstrual periods, with some irregularities.
Afterward, your menstrual cycle will begin to decline, and you may notice a change in ordinary menstrual cycles. During this time, there’s still a possibility of you becoming pregnant, despite experiencing changes, however, this is often less frequent in some women, as fertility levels tend to begin decreasing five to ten years before menopause.
Decline in Menstrual Migraine and Headaches
Women are three times more likely to experience migraines throughout their life than men, in fact, 70 percent of people who experience migraines are women, per the Cleveland Clinic.
While having to live your day-to-day life with a throbbing headache can be challenging, it often leads to other symptoms such as sensitivity to light, sweating, nausea, or vomiting, when entering menopause, you may begin to experience less frequent migraines or headaches related to menstrual periods.
Studies show that around 60 to 70 percent of women have reported a connection between their menstrual periods and their migraine.
This would mean that as you begin to enter a new phase of your life, you will notice a decrease in these symptoms, allowing you to feel a sense of relief knowing that fluctuating estrogen levels and progesterone won’t trigger a menstrual migraine.
However, this doesn't mean that menopause will fix all of your migraine-related problems. If you continue to experience elevated migraines and headaches, you will need to consult with a healthcare professional, such as your physician or a nurse to assist with finding a more long-term solution for occurring migraines.
Reduced Risk of Pregnancy
Changes to your reproductive system, including a decrease in fertility rates mean that you will have to stress less about becoming pregnant during sexual intercourse with your partner. This means that those women who use contraceptives or birth control medication, will no longer need to track their medication intake or have to renew their prescriptions every few months.
Although, research shows that as fertility in women begins to decline around the age of 35, there is still a small percentage of women that can fall pregnant during the perimenopause stage, the phase you may experience right before your regular menstrual cycle stops.
It’s estimated that around 10 to 12 percent of women ages 44 to 44, and 12 percent of women aged 45 - 49 can still fall pregnant during perimenopause. Although these cases are rare, roughly five in 100 women over the age of 50 can become pregnant during unprotected intercourse.
Although menopause doesn’t completely mean you won’t ever fall pregnant again, or run the risk of having another child at an older age, there is a reduced occurrence of this happening as you begin your perimenopausal or menopausal transition.
Boost of Inner Confidence and Self-esteem
While menopause can often feel like a frightening experience, seeing as the body begins to undergo changes, many women will often notice a decrease in their self-esteem, confidence and ability to tackle new challenges.
That mid-life slump can be normal, many women often feel that they are reaching an age where they are not able to try new things, continue their career, or completely start fresh by taking on a new hobby or making new friends.
While the loss of confidence is common, on the bright side however, this is only a temporary experience, and in some instances, some women feel more confident and have an increased level of self-esteem once they’ve endured menopause.
Some women may feel that they are climbing out of their shells, and have a new perspective on life, leaving them to try all sorts of new and exciting things. Many women may take up new hobbies, or try doing more adventurous activities such as frequently traveling, or meeting new people.
This can be different from person to person, and although this is perhaps one of the better side-effects of post-menopause, not every person will walk away with an increased level of confidence or a better quality of life.
Instead, it’s about how you as a person approach the situation and embrace the change you are about to experience. Allowing nature to take its course, and for you to live a healthy and happy life at the same time.
A New Chapter of Womanhood
The transition to menopause may bring a lot of challenges and changes into your life, however, one of the positive things that it presents you with is the feeling of entering a new phase of your life, and most importantly, embracing this change.
While having to live with the discomfort of menopause for some years, the time that follows afterward, and perhaps during menopause, allows you to have a new perspective on life, your family and friends, and the things you do to live a fulfilling and happy lifestyle.
Regular exercise and a balanced diet remain an important aspect of living a balanced lifestyle, and as you enter a new chapter of womanhood, you can begin to focus on the more valuable things in your life.
Having a good routine, and following a healthy lifestyle can further improve other aspects of your life, including the potential of weight loss, improved sexual function, and overall improved emotional symptoms.
Although not all things have been pleasant leading up to this point of your life, knowing that you are shedding all habits, and creating a new chapter for yourself allows you to embrace the change, knowing that better things are about to take shape in your life.
Is Menopause Good?
The answer depends. While there are a lot of changes that may take place over several years, menopause does present itself with a range of challenges that many women will eventually experience during some stage of their life.
Being active, living a healthy lifestyle, and regularly visiting your OB/GYN can help you better understand the various menopausal symptoms, and what are some of the things you can do to improve your lifestyle. Being informed is one of the best ways to know how your body will change, and what are some of the side effects you may experience.
However, knowing that this is a natural occurrence and that you’re not the only woman that may be experiencing these changes can help you overcome certain obstacles, and learn how to navigate the road towards a new chapter of womanhood.