Life, especially midlife, is already full of transitions. Perhaps you’re caring for aging parents, supporting children as they move into adulthood or taking on new responsibilities at work. Menopause is another transition — one that can last several years. Going through it may seem daunting, but for most women, menopause is a gradual, natural process.
Phase 1: Perimenopause
Around the ages of 45 to 55, you may have:
- Hot flashes
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Lower sex drive
- Mood swings
- Sore breasts
- Vaginal dryness
- Continue regular sexual activity — This may help keep your vagina healthy by promoting blood flow.
- Keep using contraception — Your ovaries may still be producing eggs, so you can still become pregnant.
- Stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan — Less estrogen can accelerate bone loss and worsen cholesterol.
Phase 2: Menopause
On average, about four years after perimenopause starts, women’s periods stop. Once you haven’t had a period for 12 consecutive months, you’re officially in menopause. Because your ovaries are no longer releasing eggs or producing much estrogen, you may also experience:
- Changing sleep patterns
- More frequent hot flashes
- Keep practicing safe sex — You can no longer get pregnant, but you can still get a sexually transmitted disease.
Phase 3: Postmenopause
After 12 months of menopause, the postmenopause phase kicks in. You may notice:
- Hot flashes and sore breasts, which may start to ease over the next four years.
- Vaginal dryness persists.
- Commit to regular preventive care and routine screenings — Keep your heart and bone health in tip-top shape as risks related to the loss of estrogen, such as osteoporosis and heart disease, increase.
Did You Know?
Some women can go through menopause early. Typically, it can start with a surgery or treatment that causes someone to stop producing eggs before menopause would’ve naturally occurred. Hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation are the most common causes. If it happens before age 40, for any reason, it’s called premature menopause.
Schedule a checkup. Get whole-health advice from your doctor on ways to help relieve menopause symptoms.