Women go through many changes during their lifetime; one of the biggest is menopause. Whether you’re not quite menopause age, are going through it right now, or a loved one is menopausal, the information below covers what happens during menopause, including common symptoms and important risk factors to be aware of.
Here are five things to know about menopause changes:
1. Menopause is a Natural Condition
Before we get into what happens during menopause, you should know it’s a normal change that all women go through as they age. Here are some key facts to know:
- Menopause can either refer to the changes a woman experiences just before or just after she stops having a period. When menstruation ceases due to age, it means the end of a woman’s time to reproduce.
- Each woman is born with a certain amount of eggs in her ovaries, which control menstruation and make hormones. During menopause, the ovaries stop releasing an egg each month, ending menstruation.
- When menopause occurs after age 40, it’s considered normal. Some women will go through menopause earlier (known as premature menopause), and it’s usually due to another factor like getting a hysterectomy or ovarian damage from something like chemotherapy.
- The average age for menopause is 51. Most women stop having periods between age 45-55.
2. Menopause Happens in Stages
There are three natural stages to menopause:
- Perimenopause: When the ovaries slowly start making less estrogen. Usually begins years before menopause. A woman can start having menopause symptoms towards the end of perimenopause as she’s entering menopause.
- Menopause: When a woman hasn’t had a period for at least a year. The ovaries have ceased releasing eggs. Menopausal symptoms are more extreme during this time (more on those below).
- Postmenopause: The years after menopause when symptoms subside, and some health risks related to less estrogen increase.
3. Hot Flashes (and Other Symptoms) are Very Common
Although not every woman has the same symptoms of menopause, common ones include:
- Hot flashes (the most frequent symptom that about 75 percent of menopausal women experience): a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads throughout the body
- Night sweats
- Mood swings and irritability
- Skipped or irregular periods
- Depression or fatigue
- Changes in sex drive
- Joint and muscle aches or pains
- Racing heart
4. Loss of Estrogen Increases Some Health Risks
Since menopause involves a loss of the estrogen hormone, it has been associated with an increased risk of some health issues like:
- Osteoporosis due to bone loss
- Heart disease
- Bladder and bowel problems
- More wrinkles (due to less skin elasticity)
- Weaker muscles
- Alzheimer’s disease
5. Some Lifestyle Changes May Help Alleviate Symptoms of Menopause
Although no one can escape menopause, some life adjustments could help manage symptoms. That includes natural lifestyle changes, such as
- Getting regular exercise
- Losing weight, if needed, or maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding spicy foods, which can aggravate hot flashes
- Keeping rooms at cooler temperatures to help with hot flashes
- Wearing light cotton and layered clothing
- Keeping your bones healthy by eating foods high in calcium (like dark leafy greens or dairy products), doing weight-bearing exercise, and taking vitamin D.
- Avoiding alcohol and not smoking
- Making time for self-care to relieve emotional stress
Some women may find relief from alternative therapies like acupuncture or herbal remedies.
The Bottom Line
Menopause can be a tough transition for some—but making healthy choices and understanding what happens during menopause can make the process much smoother. With humans living longer than ever before, menopause is simply another step in the beautiful cycle of life. And it’s never too late to care for your precious body!