Did you know menopause isn’t just one phase? It’s actually divided into three stages, based on where you are in your reproductive and hormonal life. Here’s a closer look at the four stages of menopause and what they mean for your reproductive health.
STAGE 1: PERIMENOPAUSE
The earliest stage of menopause usually happens 3 to 5 years before full menopause occurs. During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels drop and women first begin to notice changes in the body like:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fitful sleep
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary issues
During perimenopause, your period may become more unpredictable. It may even stop for several months and resume. A doctor can test your hormones and determine how close you may be to menopause, although not all women follow the same pattern.Some women may experience perimenopause in their 30s or 40s, much earlier than the average age of 51. This is called early-onset or premature perimenopause. These women often have a longer perimenopausal period than other women, lasting 5 years or more.It’s important to note that you can become pregnant during perimenopause. Use birth control until one full year after your last period, unless otherwise directed by your doctor.
STAGE 2: MENOPAUSE
The technical definition of menopause is not having your period for 12 months or more without having other health issues like illness, surgery, or pregnancy. At this time, the ovaries cease to make estrogen and progesterone.During menopause, many women experience hot flashes and difficulty maintaining a comfortable body temperature. Night sweats may make it hard to sleep. Hormonal shifts can contribute to mood swings and mental fogginess.
STAGE 3: POSTMENOPAUSE
Despite these the challenges of menopause, many women find postmenopause to be an uplifting time in their lives. They may find that they can stop worrying about pregnancy, redefine themselves, and take a fresh look at the rest of their lives.When a full year has passed after your last period, you are officially in postmenopause. Over a period of years, your shifting hormones will settle into a more stable balance. Hot flashes and other menopause symptoms will likely reduce significantly.
As you enter postmenopause, it’s a good time to reevaluate your health situation and talk to your doctor about long-term health goals. Your decrease in estrogen puts you at increased risk of heart disease, osteopenia, osteoporosis and other conditions of the heart and bones.
In addition, all of the following 8 conditions are on the rise among postmenopausal women:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Joint pain
- Hepatitis C
- Urinary tract infections
- Vaginal atrophy
- Gum disease
Reduce the impact of postmenopausal conditions by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting consistent moderate exercise, and forging positive connections with friends and family.
The physical changes that occur before and during menopause may be bothersome, but they’re a normal part of the menopause transition. However, your risk for more serious complications increases after you reach menopause—during the postmenopause stage.The complications below are associated with menopause, though menopause isn’t often the sole cause. Normal aging also increases your risk of developing these medical problems.
One important thing to know is that the risk of heart disease increases after menopause, so post-menopausal women are even more likely than men to have a heart attack. Also, estrogen levels drop steeply during menopause. This decline has been linked to irregular heart beat (heart palpitations). If you feel your heart beating more rapidly than normal, make sure to tell your doctor.Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking and eating a heart-healthy diet filled with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, will provide a strong defense against heart problems.
Urinary incontinence (the occasional and involuntary release of urine) is common in aging women, particularly after menopause. The decline in estrogen causes the vaginal tissues and lining of the urethra (a tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body) to thin out and lose elasticity. As a result, you may experience an uncontrollable urine leakage. This often occurs during sudden movements, such as laughing or coughing.
Quitting smoking and losing weight will both help manage urinary problems, but don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about what further treatment actions you could take. There are many treatment options for urinary incontinence available today.
Many women experience weight gain as they reach their 40s and 50s. However, this may be due to the natural process of aging—and not solely from menopause. With age, it’s harder to maintain muscle mass. Lower muscle mass slows down your metabolism, so it’s easier to gain weight.Weight gain—particularly around the abdomen—is common in women around the years of menopause. The increase in abdominal fat is particularly dangerous, as it ups the risk for heart disease.
That’s why cutting down on calories, eating a nutritious diet, and taking the time for exercise is so important.Healthy lifestyle changes are essential to preventing the great majority of menopause complications. It’s also important to regularly visit your doctor throughout the entire menopause process. He or she will monitor your symptoms carefully to make sure that your transition through menopause is a healthy one.