We cannot put an exact date on when menopause will come for each woman—it is usually ushered in from a time period called perimenopause when a woman's body makes a natural shift from more-or-less regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation toward permanent infertility (menopause). Some women begin to notice symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, etc. as early as their 30’s or 40’s and some women don’t even notice symptoms of perimenopause or menopause at all, other than their menstrual cycle stopping.
For women whose menstrual cycle has stopped due to surgery, such as a hysterectomy, a blood test will confirm if they have reached menopause.
During perimenopause, the hormones a woman’s body produces start to change and fluctuate, causing symptoms to come and go. Hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, change in sexual function and weight gain are symptoms often brought on by perimenopause and menopause that can have a significant impact on a woman’s physical and emotional well-being. Abnormal symptoms of menopause include:
- Menstrual cycles come closer together than 21 days
- Menstrual cycle lasts more than 10 days
- Bleeding during menstrual cycle that is heavy enough to cause anemia
- Bleeding between menstrual cycles
- Increasingly painful periods
- Unexplained abdominal pain
Sometimes, symptoms of other serious illnesses can be confused for menopause symptoms since they occur simultaneously, which is why it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any abnormal symptoms.
Lifestyle adjustments and medication are the two main treatment methods for the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Helpful lifestyle adjustments during menopause include healthy diet, exercise, dressing in layers that can be removed when a hot flash hits, and educating oneself on proper sleep hygiene. With medications used to manage menopause, one size does not fit all – it is important to discuss symptoms with your physician and individualize a treatment program to fit your needs.
Dr. Vanessa Haygood is an obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Greensboro and a member of Cone Health medical staff. Dr. Haygood is a graduate of Harvard University Medical School and completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center.