Going Through Menopause

Any person with ovaries and a uterus will eventually be going through menopause. For some people, this is a source of alarm; for others it is fertile territory for jokes.  Few people talk openly and honestly about the realities of the menopause. This can leave the false impression that it’s something to be worried about, ashamed of, or not to be mentioned in polite company. 

In reality, menopause is a fact of life. It need not be shrouded in mystery or fear. Simply put, menopause occurs when menstruation has not happened for a full year. While this is a very straightforward definition, some of the symptoms can be a bit harder to pin down.  And the timeline can vary from person to person depending on genetics, lifestyle, or other health factors.

Stages of Menopause

Menopause involves perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Perimenopause is the stage leading up to menopause, and can last anywhere from a couple of years to a decade. During this stage, the timing of periods becomes more irregular, and menstruation can become heavier or lighter.  Once periods stop altogether for a year, a person can be said to have experienced menopause.  Post-menopause is the time period after menopause. Some of the symptoms of menopause can persist into this phase.

Common Symptoms

Beyond the changes in menstrual periods, menopause is associated with many other symptoms. One of the best known is hot flashes, which are sudden episodes of heat, sweating, and skin flushing.  For some people, hot flashes coincide with a feeling of a racing heart. They may also be followed by sudden chills.

When hot flashes occur at night we refer to them, aptly, as night sweats.  For many people, night sweats and insomnia go hand-in-hand.

During the time leading up to and after menopause, people may also experience anxiety, depression, and memory loss. Other issues include dry skin, headaches, loss of libido, reduction in muscle and bone mass, or changes in head and body hair. Symptoms vary from person to person, and can vary throughout menopause’s various stages.

How to Ease Symptoms

Since going through menopause is a totally natural process, there is no “cure.” However, certain treatments may help ease some of the symptoms.  Simple lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on some of the most common symptoms. These include quitting smoking, eating well, and exercising regularly.

For people who have entered into early menopause due to cancer treatment or hysterectomy, there may be more targeted treatments that can help to ease symptoms.

Talk to your primary care doctor or your OB/GYN provider about your questions and concerns. They can help you to understand what supplements or treatments will be most suitable for your health profile, and can work with you to make one of life’s great transitions manageable and worry-free.

Jennifer Black, MD, is a Doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology with Four Seasons OBGYN & Midwifery, a department of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.  Specializing in women’s health, obstetrics and gynecology, Four Seasons OBGYN & Midwifery offers preventive care for all ages, from adolescence to menopause, as well as advanced infertility treatments. The practice is located in Brattleboro at 21 Belmont Avenue, and in Springfield, VT at 29 Ridgewood Rd., Suite C. The phone number is 802-251-9965 for both locations.