Things You Should Know About Menopause

Menopause is a natural part of the life cycle as a woman. Some people even refer to menopause as the start of the next half of your life. Whatever you refer to it as, many women have lots of questions about this important milestone. From what you can expect during menopause to important lifestyle changes you should make to stay healthy after your menstrual cycle stops, read on for things about menopause every woman needs to know.

What Is Menopause?

What Is Menopause?

Photo Credit: Julio Donoso/Corbis via Getty Images

Put simply, menopause is defined as not having a menstrual period for one year. During this time, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body decrease and your menstrual cycle comes to a stop. It’s important to note that you are not truly in menopause until you have missed 12 consecutive periods, or if your doctor says otherwise. Some women may experience periods every few months before they enter menopause. This is called perimenopause — but we’ll get to that later.

The expected age when women will experience menopause varies depending on numerous factors. Learn at what age you may begin menopause next.

Most Women Start Menopause Between Ages 45 and 55

Most Women Start Menopause Between Ages 45 and 55

Photo Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images

The age women experience menopause varies. Typically between 45 and 55 years old, women will stop having periods. For some women, the beginning stages of declining ovary function can happen before then. Other women will continue having periods well into their 50s.

There are lots of factors that influence when a woman enters menopause including genetics and your overall health. Ethnicity also influences menopause onset. According to WebMD, “Hispanic and African-American women reach menopause a little earlier, and Chinese and Japanese women a little later, than the average Caucasian woman, who reaches menopause at about age 51.5.”

The Onset of Menopause Is Thought To Be Genetic

The Onset of Menopause Is Thought To Be Genetic

Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Women’s bodies are different, and the onset of menopause varies from woman to woman. There are, however, certain factors that can influence when you will enter menopause.

Genetics, for example, are thought to determine when a woman enters menopause. “Menopause is strongly genetically linked, so you’re very likely to fall within a few years either way of the age your mother was at menopause,” says Nanette Santoro, MD, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine.

Other Factors Can Accelerate Ovary Decline

Other Factors Can Accelerate Ovary Decline

Photo Credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There are lots of factors that can contribute to ovary decline, which influences at what age you will enter menopause. Smoking, for example, can greatly affect the ovaries and lead to early-onset menopause.

Similarly, chemotherapy can affect ovary function too since it is toxic to the body and can damage the ovaries. In fact, women who go through chemotherapy often experience temporary menopause. In some cases, the menstrual cycle will return, but not always. In any case, you can expect to experience menopause sooner in life if you are a smoker or have gone through chemo.

You May Experience Perimenopause Before Menopause

You May Experience Perimenopause Before Menopause

Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images

Perimenopause is a term used to describe the time right before a woman experiences menopause. During this transition into menopause, women may experience menopause-like symptoms. This includes things like hot flashes and irregular menstrual cycles.

Many women may experience irregular menstrual cycles for months or even years before they actually enter menopause. Until you go 12 consecutive months without a period, you are not yet in menopause.

Up next: learn the symptoms of menopause.

Hot Flashes Are The Most Common Symptom of Menopause

Hot Flashes Are The Most Common Symptom of Menopause

Photo Credit: Renee McKay / Stringer

Of all of the symptoms menopause causes, hot flashes are the most common. In fact, around 75 percent of women experience hot flashes during menopause. Hot flashes can occur anytime, day or night, and may be accompanied by other less-than-fun symptoms like joint and muscle pain, and mood swings.

While not all women will experience hot flashes, those who do typically experience them up to five years after they have entered menopause. Next, see which foods and beverages to steer clear of for relief from hot flashes.

Avoiding Caffeine and Alcohol Can Reduce Hot Flashes

Avoiding Caffeine and Alcohol Can Reduce Hot Flashes

Photo Credit: Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s safe to say no one enjoys hot flashes. Unfortunately, they are a part of life for many women entering menopause. But avoiding certain foods and beverages, however, can help reduce the number of hot flashes you experience.

Avoiding caffeine, for example, can help ward off hot flashes. Caffeine is known to exacerbate hormonal symptoms. So although you may rely on a cup of coffee to get going in the morning (especially after you’ve had a bad night’s sleep), experts say the caffeine could worsen hot flashes, hinder sleep, and ultimately affect your mood. Similarly, alcohol can worsen hot flashes. If you are having severe menopause-related symptoms, doctors suggest keeping your alcohol consumption as close to zero as possible.

Menopause Can Cause Anxiety and Sleep Difficulties

Menopause Can Cause Anxiety and Sleep Difficulties

Photo Credit: Stefan Klein/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Women who are entering menopause often feel changes in their mood. Anxiety, irritability, depression, and forgetfulness are unsavory but normal symptoms of this life-cycle change.

Changes in mood can affect your natural sleep cycle, so it is especially important to do what you can to keep your stress levels low so that it doesn’t impede restful sleep. If you are experiencing extreme mood swings or difficulty sleeping, be sure to talk to your doctor to find the right solution for you.

Reducing Your Stress Levels Can Help Ward Off Menopause Symptoms

Reducing Your Stress Levels Can Help Ward Off Menopause Symptoms

Photo Credit: EyesWideOpen / Contributor via Getty Images

Coping with the symptoms of menopause can be tough, but working to reduce your stress levels may help. There are lots of ways you can reduce the amount of stress in your life, and you don’t need a weekend retreat to do it!

Even if you have just a few minutes to spare, you can spend that time meditating, breathing deeply, and practicing being more present in your life. Prioritizing exercise is an important way to manage stress levels and increase your overall health. You don’t need to become a marathon runner either — simply walking for 30 minutes a day is great!

Menopause Can Affect Your Bone Health

Menopause Can Affect Your Bone Health

Photo Credit: BSIP / Contributor

As women enter menopause, the amount of estrogen their bodies produce severely declines. As a result, this can affect the amount of calcium in the bones. Insufficient levels of calcium can lead to a condition known as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis can make women more susceptible to bone fractures, including the hip and spine. Because many women experience accelerated bone loss during the first few years they are in menopause, it’s important to supplement with calcium, eat a balanced diet, and exercise. Beginning at age 65, it’s recommended you get routine DEXA screenings for bone density.

Keeping Your Bones Healthy After Menopause

Keeping Your Bones Healthy After Menopause

Photo Credit: MediaForMedical/UIG via Getty Images

The decline in estrogen after menopause can affect the overall health of your bones. Decreases in bone density can result in osteoporosis. But there are lots of things you can do keep your bones as healthy as possible.

Eating foods that are rich in calcium is an easy way to keep bones strong. Dairy products, as well as dark leafy greens, have a significant amount of calcium. Supplementing with vitamin D, reducing your alcohol consumption, frequent exercise, and avoiding smoking can all help keep your bones healthy.

Menopause and Heart Disease

Menopause and Heart Disease

Photo Credit: Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

The risk of heart disease increases for everyone as they age, but this is especially true for women in menopause or postmenopause. Menopause doesn’t directly cause heart disease, but certain risk factors increase during this time in a woman’s life.

During menopause, women experience a decline in estrogen. Estrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the artery wall of the heart by keeping blood vessels flexible. Other changes in the body associated with menopause (such as increased blood pressure and cholesterol) can also increase your risk of developing heart disease.

Menopause May Contribute to Weight Gain

Menopause May Contribute to Weight Gain

Photo Credit: BSIP / Contributor

When women enter menopause, their metabolic rate slows down, and they can lose muscle mass more easily. This can contribute to weight gain, particularly around the midsection.

While this symptom is typical for women in perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause, you can combat weight gain by adjusting your daily caloric intake. Eating a diet of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help you feel fuller longer and provides healthy macronutrients and micronutrients. Keeping sugar and alcohol to a minimum is also an effective way to stave off weight gain and enjoy an overall healthier lifestyle.

Exercises Menopausal Women Should Try

Exercises Menopausal Women Should Try

Photo Credit: Jena Ardell / Contributor

After entering menopause, it’s even more important to exercise on a regular basis. In fact, doctors recommend menopausal women exercise two and a half hours each week.

The ideal exercise program for menopausal women includes endurance exercises like walking, biking, or jogging, as well as strength exercises like weight lifting or pilates. Exercises that improve balance are also recommended. Not only can following an exercise program reduce symptoms related to menopause (like hot flashes), but you’ll benefit from increased bone mass, reduced lower back pain, lower stress levels, and an overall improved mood.

Your Voice May Change

Your Voice May Change

Photo Credit: BSIP / Contributor

Although it’s rare, a small subset of women experiences a change in their voice after menopause. Symptoms may include dryness in the throat, frequent throat clearing, lower voice frequency, and an increase in voice roughness.

Menopause causes a decrease in collagen production as well as a decrease in muscle mass. This can cause dryness and the thinning of many body tissues. While this can affect the vagina, it can also affect the vocal cords.

Women Still Go Through Menopause Even If They’ve Had a Hysterectomy

Women Still Go Through Menopause Even If They’ve Had a Hysterectomy

Photo Credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko\TASS via Getty Images

Women who have had a hysterectomy in which the ovaries were not removed are still capable of producing hormones. This means the women may experience their menstrual cycle up until the normal time in which menopause would occur.

On the other hand, if a woman has her ovaries removed during a hysterectomy, she will enter menopause immediately after the procedure. In these cases, women typically experience exaggerated symptoms of menopause, including severe hot flashes, mood swings, and changes in sex drive.

Once Menopause Is Complete, You No Longer Need Birth Control

Once Menopause Is Complete, You No Longer Need Birth Control

Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Once menopause is complete, you no longer need to use birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Keep in mind that it’s not unusual for women who are in perimenopause to skip a few menstrual cycles and then start a cycle when they least expect it. If you are in perimenopause, it is unlikely you will get pregnant from unprotected sex, but it is still possible.

To avoid an unwanted pregnancy, you should use birth control until you are undoubtedly in menopause and you have missed 12 or more consecutive menstrual cycles. Practicing safe sex is an important part of preventing STIs.

You May Experience Vaginal and Vulvar Atrophy

You May Experience Vaginal and Vulvar Atrophy

Photo Credit: dia for Medical/UIG via Getty Images

Women who are entering menopause or are already in menopause may experience something known as vaginal or vulvar atrophy. This symptom is associated with menopause and can cause the skin and tissues in and around your vagina to become drier, thinner, and less elastic.

This can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or painful for women, but there are things you can do to help. If you experience vaginal or vulvar atrophy, talk to your doctor about different treatment options.

Hormone Therapy May Help Manage Menopausal Problems

Hormone Therapy May Help Manage Menopausal Problems

Photo Credit: BSIP / Contributor

Some women experience more intense symptoms associated with menopause, such as extreme hot flashes. If you experience hot flashes that are severe and unrelenting, your doctor may suggest hormone therapy.

While hormone therapy can help, this option is only used if completely necessary as it may increase your risk of developing breast cancer. If hot flashes are seriously impeding your life, lifestyle changes like healthy eating and exercise should be tried first.

Natural Alternatives to Hormone Therapy

Natural Alternatives to Hormone Therapy

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you are experiencing severe symptoms related to menopause, but don’t want to use hormone therapy, there are natural alternatives that may help. Studies have found that supplementing with vitamin B complex, vitamin E, as well as other drugs like paroxetine, clonidine, or gabapentin may help reduce menopause symptoms.

Some women have reported that adding soy to their diets with food likes organic soy milk, soybeans, and tofu have helped. Primrose oil and black cohosh oil have also been found to be effective. As always, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any new vitamins.