What Is Menopause?

MENOPAUSE. You’ve heard the word. Maybe your mother whispered it in passing. You saw that commercial, you know the one, where two mature women wearing sensible shoes and drinking iced tea leaned in closely and whispered it. Menopause. It was listed on a sign at your gyno’s office, a medical condition you didn’t have to think about yet. You may even have  thought to yourself, “So, I won’t have to have a period anymore? Score!” Sound familiar? 

There’s more to menopause than a moratorium on your monthlies. But, for some inexplicable reason, it’s a taboo topic. Perhaps it’s because society prefers to ignore women over the age of 45? Or, because it’s another icky bodily issue and what’s more, a “woman’s trouble?” Or, could it be because increased vaginal dryness, night sweats, and mood swings aren’t *sexy.* Heaven forbid a woman be anything other than sexy! Whatever the reasons, there’s no good reason to keep the 25 million people entering menopause annually in the dark. They should have the opportunity to share their struggles, concerns, and questions.

What is Menopause?

Well, not anymore! We’re here to challenge the “norms” of silence and discomfort. We want to normalize talking about it, because after all, menopause is just that—NORMAL. Let’s stop tip-toeing around the bush (pun intended) and tear down the taboo! We’re all in this together, and 1.2 billion menopausal people by the year 2030 adds a whole new dimension to “Girl Power!”

So what IS menopause, exactly? According to the National Institute of Aging, “menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition, or perimenopause.”

According to Healthline, “menopause occurs when a woman hasn’t menstruated in 12 consecutive months and can no longer become pregnant naturally. It usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55, but can develop before or after this age range.”

What Can You Expect When Going Through Menopause?

What Is the Menopausal Transition?

Although we’d love to sugarcoat the medical process of menopause by dipping it in caramel and covering it in sprinkles, we all know a sugar-high is only temporary and generally leaves you feeling empty. In education, within the real hard knowledge lies the meat and potatoes of empowerment. (And don’t forget the after-dinner empower-mint.) So, grab a cup of coffee (or  your favorite cocktail/mocktail) and get comfy while we cover some facts.

How will you know when you’re approaching the menopausal transition? It might start with a visit from Aunt Flo, although that customary visit may not be what you’re accustomed to. That’s right, most women first notice the frequency of their period becoming less consistent (yay!) as the flow becomes heavier and longer (nay!). This usually occurs at some point in the mid-to-late 40’s. On average (based on stats), by the age of 51, most U.S. women have entered menopause. A heads up that it might happen earlier than your mid-40s or later than 51. No need to be alarmed, though, because all bodies are different! 

The menopausal transition may include the following (varies by each person): 

  • May start between ages 45 and 55. (And, like I said … it might come earlier or later. Exciting, right?! Or not exciting, I just want you to know all of the possibilities.)  
  • Lasts an average of 4.5 years, but can last as long as 14 years. Yes, you read that correctly . . . 14. Years. But #youcandothis and #yourenotalone. 
  • Bones lose density. The bummer here is that you may become more vulnerable to injuries like fractures. 

Note of Encouragement (!): You can keep this in the back of your mind, but save room for my favorite mantra: DON’T LET YOUR LIMITATIONS LIMIT YOU! Keep repeating that until it’s at the front of your mind. 

  • Requires the body to use energy in different ways and may cause fat  cells to change. 

Note of Encouragement (!): Weight gain during menopause is perfectly normal. I repeat: PERFECTLY. NORMAL. Let’s embrace it, hug our curves, and support each other. Body positivity FTW! 

  • May be triggered by a hysterectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries, which produce hormones. 

Note (!): Keep in mind that if you have surgery to remove your ovaries or uterus and are not taking hormones, then you will experience the symptoms of menopause immediately. That’s a fact coming directly from the National Institute of Health (aka NIH). They know what they’re talking about, so I’ll rely on the true health experts for their knowledge and  expertise.

What Are Menopause Symptoms?

Aside from the menstruation changes, other menopause symptoms may include (brace yourself):

  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Decreased libido or sex drive
  • Dry skin, mouth, and eyes
  • Increased urination
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Headaches
  • Racing heart
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Painful or stiff joints
  • Reduced bone mass
  • Less full breasts
  • Hair thinning or loss
  • Increased hair growth on other areas of the body, such as the face, neck, chest, and upper back

You can’t say it won’t be interesting!

Why Does Menopause Occur?

Menopause is a natural process that occurs when the ovaries age and produce less reproductive hormones. These changes can be overwhelming, isolating, confusing, scary. And, the right, helpful information can be hard to find. I’m here to help.

So, why does this crazy yet normal thing happen to our beautiful bodies? Well, the body begins to undergo several changes in response to lower levels of:

  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)

One of the most notable changes is the loss of active ovarian follicles. For those of us who aren’t medical experts (*raises hand*), the ovarian follicles are structures that produce and release eggs from the ovary wall, allowing menstruation and fertility.

The release of the egg on a monthly basis means that Aunt Flo will be knocking on your vaginal door any minute. So, when you lose these active ovarian follicles, your period stops. See ya later, Aunt Flo and all of the baggage you brought with you (e.g., tampons, pads, cups, and liners). Thanks but no thanks for all of the monthly visits.

Do Most Women Receive Proper Menopause Treatment?

Go ahead, take a guess! If you guessed “no” to most women receiving proper menopause treatment, then ding ding ding! You are 100% correct!  

Take a look at these stats

  • Of the 60% of women who seek medical attention, 75% of them are left untreated. 
  • Only 1 in 5 women in the U.S. received a referral to a menopause specialist. 
  • Costs can be a major barrier to uptake of hormone treatments.
  • Lifestyle intervention options as a way to manage symptoms are lacking. 

Granted, it’s hard to receive proper treatment if you don’t even know what menopause is, how it starts, why it starts, and what symptoms occur. Even though getting educated and receiving proper treatment isn’t currently the norm, being in tune with your body, understanding the  symptoms, and getting treatment/seeking help when you need it (or even if you think you might need it) is critical to loving your life in every stage. 

The good news is, thanks to this blog post, you’re stepping in the right direction. Welcome! You’re not alone. Give yourself permission to break the menopause taboo with us and take control of your health and wellness. We’re glad you’re here!

It’s a Wrap!

I know, right? That info was heavier than Aunt Flo! We just covered a lot, so let me wrap up the meaning of menopause in a cute little package with and even cuter bow: 

  • Menopause is the natural stopping of a woman’s menstrual cycle. (Goodbye forever, Aunt Flo! I’d say you’ll be missed, but my mother didn’t raise a liar!) 
  • It marks the end of fertility. 
  • Most women experience menopause by the age of 51 (typical age  range is between the ages 45 and 55). 
  • A hysterectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries, which produce  hormones, may trigger menopause. 
  • If you have surgery to remove your ovaries or uterus and are not  taking hormones, then you will experience the symptoms of menopause immediately. 
  • Genetics or underlying conditions may also lead to early onset of menopause. 
  • Many women experience menopause symptoms—I’m talking hot flashes, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, weight gain, etc.—in the few years before menopause. Stay in tune with your body a symptoms can continue for four or more years after menopause. For a more detailed list of symptoms, check out the list above.

Even though each person experiences menopause differently (we’re all delicate, special flowers, right?), you should still talk to your mother and grandmother or other people in your family about menopause. Because even though we all experience it a bit differently, we all experience it! Ask them when they went through it, what their symptoms were, and how they got through it (both physically and emotionally). If those in the older generations closest to you don’t feel comfortable uttering the M-word, then find a BFF who will go there with you. Starting the conversation is the first step in educating and empowering yourself while breaking that terrible taboo. 

The laundry list of menopause symptoms can feel overwhelming. Oh, the  joys of being a woman (you heard the heavy sarcasm there, yeah?). But, do you remember my favorite mantra? With the right resources and care, YOUR LIMITATIONS DON’T HAVE TO LIMIT YOU! You’ll get through it. We’ll all get through it. Because remember, we’re all in this together (and  “all” means billions of us!).

Let’s love each other, embrace our bodies, and empower ourselves and each other. Cheers to this next phase of life! *clinking of the coffee or cocktail/mocktail glasses*

Sources:

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