The menopause is the exact point in your life when you have stopped having periods for a total of 12 months.
This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. The average age in the UK is 51. The menopause is caused by changes in your hormone levels. When your body is at its most fertile, estrogen and progesterone keep your periods and production of eggs regular. As you get older, you can’t store as many eggs in your ovaries and you might find it harder to conceive. That is because your body is producing less and less estrogen. This gradual process is called the perimenopause.
The menopause is a natural process that every woman will eventually go through. Some of you may have quite a difficult experience while others may sail through it. Your experience of the menopause will greatly depend on a number of things including body type, family history and lifestyle. There are 34 common symptoms of menopause, which include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and fatigue, and are typically due to the natural decline in estrogen. Fortunately, all symptoms are manageable through lifestyle and diet changes, as well as natural and medical treatments.
Early and Premature Menopause
Some women (around 1 in 100) may experience the menopause in their 30s or 40s or even younger. This is known as early menopause if you are under 45 or premature menopause if you are younger than 40. Early or premature menopause happens when your body stops producing hormones a while before it is meant to.
It is not always possible to understand why premature menopause happens but it can be caused by enzyme deficiencies or autoimmune diseases that affect hormone production in your body. It can also be caused by some cancer treatments including radiotherapy and chemotherapy and surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy.
If you’re worried you might have early or premature menopause, your doctor can take a blood test to measure your estrogen levels. More specifically, blood tests can determine the level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in your body, a hormone that stimulates the ovaries to produces estrogen. A high level of FSH suggests low levels of estrogen, which can indicate a woman may have early or premature menopause.
If you are suffering through early or premature menopause, you can contact The Daisy Network, a registered charity dedicated to providing information and support. From providing a network of women to talk to, to supplying you with information and research on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and other ways to manage long-term health, The Daisy Network is an incredible source for women going through early or premature menopause.
Perimenopause happens before the menopause and it usually lasts a number of years (the average is four). It often begins in your 40s but can happen earlier or later. As with most aspects of the menopause, the age it happens to you is down to a variety of individual factors and so there is no set rule. Some of you – particularly if you’re in your 30s or 40s – may put your symptoms down to stress or other life events without realising you are actually perimenopausal. Many women don’t know (as I didn’t) that there is a difference between perimenopause and menopause.
In the first few years of perimenopause, estrogen levels fluctuate, which can lead to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. One of the biggest symptoms of perimenopause is irregular periods, where your menstrual cycles may lengthen or shorten, or become overall more erratic. Since perimenopause is a new change in women’s lives, you may attribute symptoms of perimenopause (like increased anxiety and mood swings) to other factors in your life that may cause stress.
During the final two years of perimenopause, your estrogen production slows down rapidly. It is at this stage that many women start to experience symptoms of the menopause, like hot flushes and fatigue. Perimenopause ends at the start of menopause, when the ovary stops producing eggs and so during perimenopause, you can still become pregnant.
If you have not had a period for 12 months, you are considered post-menopausal and your symptoms may gradually decrease with time. Unlike perimenopause and menopause, the start of postmenopause is not signaled by distinct physical symptoms, but is a permanent state following menopause that lasts the rest of your life. In fact, symptoms of postmenopause vary from woman to woman. Some women feel a renewal of energy, while others continue to have menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats. Since your estrogen levels are permanently lowered, it’s normal to feel changes in the body.
It is important that you make time for regular health checks as postmenopausel women are at increased risk of a number of health conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease due to reduced estrogen production. Your risk depends on factors such as your medical and family history. Fortunately, postmenopausal risks can be managed through a healthy lifestyle and diet (including regular exercise and vitamin intake), and regular visits to your GP.
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