Menopause For Dummies
Menopause is a natural and inevitable stage in every woman's life, but not all women understand it. Become familiar with the three stages of menopause (and what comes before it); recognize the signs that menopause is approaching; know what to do about hot flashes; and get savvy about getting through menopause.
The Three Stages of Menopause
Before you enter the three stages of menopause, you are in premenopause — literally, "before menopause." (Premenopausal women show no symptoms of menopause: periods are normal and regular, and hormone levels are steady.) The first of the three stages of menopause is perimenopause, then menopause, and, finally, postmenopause:
Perimenopause: Literally, "around menopause." The years before menopause when hormones fluctuate and periods are irregular. Perimenopause can last up to 10 years before periods stop, but normally the symptoms last only four or five years.
Menopause: Technically, menopause begins a year after the last menstrual period and indicates the end of your reproductive ability.
Surgical menopause or induced menopause occurs when a woman's ovaries are surgically removed.
Premature menopause occurs when you experience menopause at an unusually early age (like in your thirties). Premature menopause leaves you at risk of osteoporosis and higher cholesterol fairly early in life.
Postmenopause: The years after menopause when the ovaries are no longer functioning. This is the time when health conditions associated with long periods of low estrogen (osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease) are your top concern.
Symptoms that Indicate Menopause Is Near
Most women begin experiencing menopause symptoms, which are the result of hormones getting out of balance, while they're still having periods. If you experience any or all of the following symptoms, check with your doctor — you may be approaching the change.
Dry skin or hair
Fuzzy thinking (difficulty concentrating)
Heart flutters (rapid heartbeats)
Hot flashes (also called hot flushes)
Insomnia or interrupted sleep
Urinary problems (frequent urination or incontinence)
How to Deal with Hot Flashes during Menopause
Menopausal women often experience hot flashes where a sudden, intense wave of heat overcomes them. Follow these pointers for reducing hot flashes and their effects:
Exercise regularly. Only one in 20 women who exercise regularly experience hot flashes. Of women who don't exercise, one in four experience hot flashes.
Turn on the ceiling fan or throw back the blanket at night to avoid waking up with night sweats. Instead of using one heavy blanket or duvet, use a sheet and several thin blankets; remove or add layers as needed.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol and watch those spicy foods and hot drinks. These can trigger hot flashes at the dinner table.
Reduce your stress level by exercising or practicing relaxation techniques.
Dress in layers so you can peel down when you're "flashing" and cover back up when you cool off.
Five Tips for Getting through Menopause
Some women breeze through menopause without realizing it's upon them; others are not so lucky. Here are five tips for making the journey through menopause easier.
Recognize that menopause is a natural transition, just like puberty. Fortunately, with a few more years under your belt, you are in a better position to ride out the storm of hormonal upheavals this time. Realize that menopause is a time of change, not only with your body, but also with your life.
Find some good doctors, namely an internist and gynecologist. Make sure that you have good two-way communication (that means you and your doctor listen to each other, and that you feel comfortable with your doctor's advice).
Re-evaluate your lifestyle. Your body is less forgiving now and lets you know if you continue with those bad habits you enjoy. You need to have a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly (at least five times a week), avoid smoking, and get enough sleep.
Get an annual gynecology exam (with your gynecologist) and an annual physical exam (with your internist). Track any symptoms you have (both physical and mental) and discuss these with your doctor.
Have patience with yourself. Find a way to relax and reduce your stress. Stress intensifies many menopausal symptoms and lowers your body's immunity to disease. Take time out for yourself to visit friends, join a yoga class, go for a walk, or do community service — just do something that makes you feel good about yourself.