Menopause is permanent end of menstruation and fertility and a natural biological process, not a medical illness. Just the same, menopause can lead to symptoms that sap you of energy and even cause feelings of sadness and loss.
What’s behind menopause?
Hormones are the culprit, and they cause the physical symptoms of menopause. The most important thing to remember is that menopause isn’t the end of anything, including your sexuality.
While it’s not an illness, the symptoms that menopause creates can be severe and warrant attention and treatment. Be aware of what these symptoms are and alert your doctor to them.
At the doctor's office
Your doctor may check your level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol) with a blood test. With menopause, FSH levels increase and estradiol levels decrease. Your doctor may also recommend a blood test to determine your level of thyroid-stimulating hormone, because hypothyroidism can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause.
How does menopause start?
Menopause happens when the ovaries begin making less estrogen and progesterone—believe it or not, the process starts in your late 30s. Fewer eggs are ripening, and ovulation is less predictable. As you enter your 40s, you’ll see changes to your menstrual cycle. It may taper off, or you may menstruate monthly up until your last period. It differs from person to person. More likely, though, you’ll find yourself having less-frequent periods.
By definition, you’ll need to wait until 12 months after your last period to reach menopause by its official definition. Keep in mind, too, that certain risk factors can bring on menopause sooner than expected. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy or premature ovarian failure, you may experience symptoms of menopause. Also know that menopause puts you at risk for chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence and weight gain.
What can you do at home?
Healthy lifestyle choices can help to promote good health as well as alleviate menopausal symptoms. Be sure to adopt a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Adding calcium-rich foods helps, and since alcohol and caffeine can trigger night flashes, avoiding them altogether can bring some relief.
Regular exercise can help control weight gain and provides an added bonus of putting you in a better mood! But don’t stop at 30 minutes of exercise a day—be sure to practice regular meditation or stress-reducing activities such as yoga to help you relax.