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Understanding Menopause

Menopause marks the point where you’ve gone 12 months in a row without a period. The average age for this is around 51. But it can happen at younger or older ages. During the months or years before menopause, your body goes through many changes. It may be helpful to understand these changes and what you can do about the symptoms that result.

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Symptoms

Perimenopause is sometimes called the menopause transition. It happens in the months or years before menopause. It may begin when you reach your mid-40s. During this time, your estrogen levels go up and down and then decrease. As a result, you may notice some of these symptoms:

  • Menstrual periods that come more or less often than normal

  • Menstrual periods that are lighter or heavier than normal

  • Increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Mood swings

  • Vaginal dryness with possible pain during sex

  • Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep

  • Decreased sexual drive and function

  • Urinating frequently

It is important to remember that you could become pregnant until 12 months have passed since your last menstrual period. Ask your healthcare provider about birth control choices. 

Controlling symptoms

Your healthcare provider may suggest pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) that have the hormone progesterone. This can make your periods more regular and prevent excess bleeding. If you have symptoms due to lower estrogen levels, your healthcare provider may suggest pills that contain estrogen or progesterone. This is called hormone therapy.  There are also other prescription medicines that help control some of the symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.

Other ways for you to deal with symptoms are listed below.

  • Hot flashes. Wear layers that you can take off. Try all-cotton clothing, sheets, and blankets. Keep a glass of cold water by your bed.

  • Pain during sex. You can buy a water-based lubricant or vaginal moisturizer in the pharmacy that may help. Your provider may also prescribe an estrogen cream for your vagina.

  • Mood swings. Talking with friends who are going through the same changes can sometimes help.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather Trevino
Online Medical Reviewer: Irina Burd MD PhD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
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