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Remember that time you were at a Holiday party and your Aunt rolled up her sleeves and turned on the air conditioning and seemed to be the only one that was hot? Ah yes, the illusive hot flash… Years later, you are the one sticking your head in the freezer, and menopause has begun.
No need to panic! Educating yourself in what to expect and how to cope with the symptoms will put your mind at ease…. So let’s get started!
Menopause is divided into 3 phases but it is difficult to define them because the amount of time in each phase varies from woman to woman and each woman experiences each phase differently!
Despite the difficulty in defining, there are generally 3 accepted phases: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
Perimenopause starts years before your last period. Small changes may happen without you really noticing, and then you find your head in the freezer as you experience you first hot flash. Welcome to the beginnings of menopause.
Menopause is marked with the well-known hot flash and is when your period stops completely. When you have had a full year without your period, you are considered to have gone through menopause. On average, menopause is around age 51, although some go through it earlier and some later.
Next, postmenopause is everything after menopause, which is the phase you live in for the rest of your life with little to no recurring symptoms.
So what are the symptoms?
One of the first signs you are entering perimenopause is your period becoming irregular, or you miss one here and there, sometimes even for a few months in a row. Next will be the occurrence of hot flashes. They may start mildly in the beginning but sometimes, menopause takes years to go through and eventually the hot flashes may escalate.
Night sweats go hand in hand with hot flashes. You wake up in the middle of the night and your bedding and you are soaked! Some women experience night sweats and not hot flashes, or vice-versa, or both or neither; but the odds are you will get at least one of these symptoms. Lucky you!
Vaginal dryness is yet another side effect of menopause. Diminishing estrogen levels cause physical changes in the moisture and elasticity of the vaginal walls and a decrease in the natural lubrication. Over the counter lubricants can definitely assist during this transition.
Lack of sex drive and loss of intimacy can be really frustrating if it’s not met with education about what’s really going on. Being honest with your partner and keeping an open mind in the bedroom can help both of you during this time. Keeping an open dialogue will diminish the incidence of depression which if left unchecked, can warrant going to a doctor for help.
Be prepared for weight loss and maintenance to become more difficult! You may gain a little weight for no reason at all; it is a side effect of menopause. The fluctuating hormones and frustrating times you are going through are to blame. Keep the focus on self-care with a healthy diet combined with daily physical activity and things will get easier soon.
You may find you have trouble sleeping. It may feel like your thoughts are keeping you up, but did you know insomnia can also be a side effect of decreasing estrogen levels. Getting daily, vigorous exercise will help you sleep better. You can also try taking a little melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body as it gets dark outside. It has limited side effects and it is considered safe. Take the lowest dose only when needed. Taking melatonin too often can cause it to become less effective.
Mood swings can, well…. Make you moody! Throw in the classic hot flash and you can really start to feel out of control. Don’t worry. These are just side effects of menopause and will be better shortly!
One of the most frustrating symptoms is hair loss, and depending on the women it could be by the brush-full! This can really take a toll on your self-esteem and self-confidence. If you experience this symptom, spending the day at the spa treating yourself and trying a new cut and style is a girl’s best friend!
The good news?!?! The symptoms will not likely be present all at once, and thank goodness, but now you can be sure that you are ready to recognize them as they come. Keep a positive outlook and remember, every woman goes through menopause at some point… those who learn to laugh at themselves and make the best of it, have an easier time in this stage of their life!