Once we hit 45 years old, a thought goes through all our minds at least once: How will “the change” affect me? Will I have crazy, uncontrollable bleeding for weeks on end, drenching sweats that happen all day and night or painful sex that makes intimacy with my husband a thing of the past?
The path to this change of life, medically known as menopause, affects every one of us differently. There was a time when we got together with our girlfriends to have a glass (or two) of wine and the conversations typically revolved around topics related to our out of control teenage children, financial issues and complaining about our husband’s/partner’s obsession with football.
The conversation takes a dramatic shift when you are the first one in the group to bravely admit that you had a sudden burst of fire in your body that caused you to sweat so badly it looked like you just stepped out of the shower. The terrifying look on your 30 year-old friend’s face only highlights the fact that you are entering that next phase of life and moving through the aging process. You then call your mom and ask her what her experience was like when she entered this rite of passage, and she brushes off the question saying she didn’t even notice anything different.
The average age of menopauseonset is 51. Pre-menopause or peri-menopause can start as early as 40 and continue through age 55. For the average woman, this is a time when hormones are wild and erratic. I like to refer to this time as “hormonal havoc”.
What is the medical explanation of menopause?
Menopause is the time when you no longer have menstrual periods (aka you’re no longer fertile). Your ovaries, which normally produce estrogen, stop its production.
Signs that hormonal havoc typically include these seven symptoms:
1. Irregular bleeding. There may be no rhyme or reason when your period comes, nor how many days it lasts. This irregularity could start months or even years before you actually cross over into menopause. Unfortunately, no one really knows how long these erratic periods last (not even doctors).
The most important thing is to talk to your doctor. Make sure you don’t have a polyp or fibroids in your uterus and that your ovaries don’t have any cysts on them. Also check to see if your thyroid is acting normally. Once these “organic” causes are ruled out, you can assume that the irregular periods are a pre-menopause symptom.
2. Hot Flashes. It feels like you have a coil in inside your body and it slowly starts to heat up from the middle and radiate heat in every direction. The heat that you feel inside your body is second to the beads of sweat that drip from forehead and chest. You can get them when you least expect it, all day or all night. Most women experience a hot flash or two when their ovaries stop producing estrogen.
3. Anxiety/Mood Swings/Irritable/Depression. Being less patient with your children, screaming at your husband and pushing your pet dogaway? These are emotional lows caused by hormonal havoc. Mood swings, depression, anxiety, anger, rage and crying fits are normal and very common.
4. Insomnia. Not having a good night sleep for months and years is common as you enter into this next stage of life. Many women cannot sleep as a result of being woken up with night sweats. Some have to change their pajamas once or twice from midnight to 6am. Insomnia tends to be worse during the first one or two years when your hormones are fluctuating daily.
5. Palpitations. This can be a scarier symptom of menopause since it involves your heart, not your ovaries. Low or fluctuating estrogen levels make your heartbeat change its rhyme, and as a result, bouts of rapid heartbeats happen without warning and regardless of what you are doing at the time.
6. Vaginal dryness. Once your estrogen levels drops over time, your vagina loses all its hydration andbecomes dry. It may start to burn, making sex painful and impossible.
7. No sex drive. If you are willing to talk about it with your girlfriends of the same age, I suspect you will find that most women are suffering from the same problem in the bedroom. This is hormonally driven and can be fixed if you are open to treatment options.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Make a visit with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms.
Since everyone is different in terms of how menopause affects her, every woman will seek treatment depending on her individual symptoms.
The good news is that the symptoms related to hormonal havoc are temporary. “Temporary” can mean one to five years depending on your body’s reaction to your ovaries shutting down the production of estrogen.
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