Ending the Confusion
As happens whenever you put prefixes before words, confusion ensues. It is no different for menopause, so we are hoping this article will help put an end to the dilemma and give a basic understanding of menopause, from pre-menopause through post-menopause, including a clearer understanding to be able to determine whether the symptoms you may be experiencing are menopausal or just general hormonal imbalance.
Premenopause - When Nothing Happens Out of the Ordinary
Premenopausal means before menopause. Now, that could include women from their 20s through their 40s. If there are no symptoms of menopause and periods are regular then, technically a woman is premenopausal. Perimenopause means "around menopause", and like premenopause, the indications are that menopause hasn't quite gotten into swing, but there's an indication as to what changes may take place when true menopause arrives. Usually, perimenopause lasts from two to five years before menopause actually happens. But, sometimes women have symptoms of menopause from 10 to 15 years before it arrives. When menopausal symptoms show up when a woman is young it is called early menopause.
Peri-Menopause, The Fun Begins
During perimenopause estrogen gradually declines and progesterone is produced erratically and only during cycles when an egg is released, and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is triggered by low estrogen causing those lovely hot flashes. Perimenopause usually begins when a woman is in her mid-40s, but it can be influenced by genetics. If a mother began menopause earlier, chances are the daughter will, too. During perimenopause some cycles are anovulatory, which means an egg is not produced, and other cycles see more than one egg release making the likelihood of a multiple pregnancy greater should conception happen during this period.
The early signs of perimenopause may be a growing time period between menses or periods becoming either heavier or lighter. Hot flashes, mood swings (which can be leveled out with diet changes), memory challenges and headaches are all part of this beginning portion of menopause.
Am I In Menopause or Is It Hormonal Imbalance?
Technically, menopause is the stopping of menstruation and the average age of women who enter menopause is 52 in the US and Canada. However, a woman may enter menopause at any time from her 30s through her 60s. The transition can be very dramatic, difficult, or quite simple and without a lot of discomfort - each woman is different and each will experience menopause in a way that is specific to them. But, one thing is certain, every woman in menopause stops having periods. Once periods have stopped for 12 consecutive months, a woman is considered post-menopausal. However, determining that can be problematic for a woman because she may miss nine months of menstruation only to have a period. Now she has to start counting all over again.
First I'm Hot, Then I'm Not
Menopausal symptoms run the gamut from mild hot spells during the night to full-blown, dripping and sweaty hot flashes that attack at any time day or night. Some women spot for a few months and then they're finished while others gush torrents for years. The symptoms, while commonly blamed on estrogen loss are more likely caused by hormonal imbalances and changes. Diet, lifestyle and genetic factors figure in as well. Often women seek hormonal treatment that ends up being futile and ineffective, usually adding to the imbalance rather than correcting it. During menopause, other symptoms arrive including vaginal dryness and a distinct change in sex drive.
Ah, The Joys...
By the time a woman is post-menopausal her hormone patterns have undergone significant change. The ovaries have ceased producing estrogen and progesterone, although her adrenal glands and fat cells continue to produce estrogen at about 40 percent of the previous levels. There are all kinds of new adventures that come along with post-menopause. With hormone changes come weight changes and it is not uncommon for a woman to gain weight around the tummy rather than the hips. Menopause often finds women finding their voices, often expressing emotions (especially anger) that have been repressed for decades. It's important to direct this energy into positive paths.