Women who experience perimenopause and/or menopause sometimes report lacking a sense of overall well-being. How do doctors diagnose menopause? And what are the common symptoms of menopause? Click to find out.
"How can I tell if I'm experiencing menopause?"
This is a question recently brought up by one of my very kind and insightful patients.
The topic of menopause is a rather complex one – and that's because the female anatomy itself is complex. With two ovaries, a uterus, varying levels of circulating female hormones, and the fertility “phenomenon,” there's a lot that could go off kilter.
And when there’s a period of change and transition (no pun intended), things seem to go a tad haywire causing even more apprehension.
Here are some common questions I hear from women experiencing this period of joy (again, no pun intended):
“I’m suddenly gaining weight, does this mean I’m going through menopause?”
“I’m getting hot flashes but I still have my periods – what’s going on?”
“I haven’t had a period in months. Do I still need birth control?”
In the absence of concrete symptoms, some women simply just don’t feel well or don't feel like themselves, which can be a normal part of the menopause process as well. Let’s find out what menopause really is and how doctors typically diagnose it. .
What Is Menopause?
Menopause reflects the cessation of monthly periods and ovulation (or releasing of the egg). These changes are actually secondary to the great decline in the female feel-good, super hormone called estrogen. This is the hormone that feeds our bones, our vaginal tissue, our metabolism, and our stamina – it’s the female mojo, if you will. If you don’t have enough of this mojo, your menstrual bleeding subsequently halts. In fact, menopause is clinically defined as the lack of menstrual bleeding for 12 months – that’s it, simple as that.
The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51. But it can happen anytime between age 45 and 55.
Menopause also signifies that time in a woman’s life that signals the end of fertility. The ovaries no longer produce eggs in menopause. Many patients are quite ecstatic about this notion, but others may have a harder time saying goodbye. Both are quite normal reactions.
What Is Perimenopause?
What makes this process even more complex is something called perimenopause, which is the time span prior to menopause that reflects this gradual decline in estrogen – this could occur up to 10 years prior to menopause. Perimenopause can trigger some quite unwanted body (and mind) changes often reported by women in their 40s. These include:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Irregular menstrual bleeding
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain with intercourse
These are all considered quite normal. However, for some women, they are severe enough to cause significantly diminished quality of life.