Overwhelmed by all things menopause? We created this simple FAQ to help. Below we break down the basics, options for relief, and some of the most commonly Googled questions surrounding The Change.
Menopause is a biological process that is a natural part of aging. It marks the end of your menstrual cycle and reproductive years and is defined as the point in time when you have not had a period for a full 12 months. According to Johns Hopkins, women tend to hit menopause naturally at about the same age as their mothers, which on average is at 51 years old. However, menopause can also occur earlier due to a surgery or medical treatment.
Perimenopause is a transitional phase leading up to menopause that is triggered when your ovaries start producing less estrogen. This change in hormones affects your body in many ways, leading to a variety of symptoms. While it typically starts in your mid-40s, perimenopause can begin as early as 35 for some women and can last between 4 to 10 years, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While periods may be irregular, it is possible to get pregnant during this time.
While the hallmark symptom of perimenopause and menopause is the hot flash (which is experienced by approximately 75% of women per Johns Hopkins Medicine), women face a range of both physical and emotional symptoms during this period of change.
According to The Mayo Clinic, perimenopause and menopause symptoms include:
As the name suggests, postmenopause is the stage after you’ve gone a full year without a period. For many women, these are some of the best years of their lives. For others, menopausal symptoms can persist for another decade. In either case, postmenopausal women are at an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis due to the body’s lower levels of estrogen and other changes related to aging such as weight gain. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and explore the natural and hormonal options available to you.
According to The Mayo Clinic, menopause does not require medical treatment, but rather solutions and care teams that are focused on relieving your symptoms and managing age-related conditions. Since everyone’s menopause experience is unique, different people require different kinds of care and support. When thinking about your symptoms, it’s useful to know who you can reach out to for help.
For many women, non-hormonal, natural remedies are the preferred place to start for menopause-related symptoms. Harvard Medical School recommends a number of options – see a quick list below.
According to Johns Hopkins, there are two main hormone-based therapies available to help women manage menopause symptoms.
Early menopause is a term used if you experience menopause between 40 and 45 years old, whereas women who experience The Change before age 40 are considered to have gone through what’s called premature menopause. This is not to be confused with perimenopause, which describes the transitional phase leading up to menopause.
The genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) describes the genital, sexual, and urinary changes associated with menopause. According to The Mayo Clinic, GSM is caused by a decrease in estrogen production, making your vaginal tissues thin, dry, less elastic, and more fragile.
The signs and symptoms of GSM include:
Sex and menopause can be challenging, but menopause should not mark the end of your sex life. Regular sexual activity comes with a host of physical and emotional health benefits such as decreased stress, improved sleep, reduced incontinence, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and more. But during menopause, women often experience changes to their libido, vaginal dryness, and atrophy – making sex more complicated. According to The Mayo Clinic, sex – with or without a partner – may help with many of these symptoms, meaning providers often recommend women embrace a sexual wellness routine with the help of the proper tools. Personal massagers, lubricants, moisturizes, estrogen creams, and dilators can all help you maintain a healthy sex life from peri-to postmenopause.
Once you’ve reached menopause – meaning you haven’t had a period for a full 12 months – you cannot get pregnant naturally. However, if you’re still in perimenopause, it is possible to make a baby even though your periods may be irregular.
While it is more common in younger women, postmenopausal women can experience breast pain. According to Harvard Medical School, breast pain after menopause can come in many forms and is commonly referred to as noncyclical breast pain – meaning it is not linked to menstruation. Noncyclical breast pain can be caused by infection, injury, medications, cancer (although rare), support problems, costochondritis (inflammation of cartilage in the rib cage), arthritis, shingles, and more.
Spotting after menopause – meaning you haven’t had a period for a full 12 months – is abnormal and should be evaluated by your doctor. In most cases, it’s is not due to something dangerous, but given the nature of potential causes, it’s important to take it seriously. According to Harvard Medical School, most postmenopausal bleeding is caused by vaginal atrophy, uterine fibroids, or benign polyps – all of which are noncancerous conditions. However, spotting after menopause can also be a sign of cancer of the uterus, cervix, or vagina.
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the understanding of menopause and healthy aging. Their mission is to promote the health and quality of life of all women during midlife and beyond.