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Understanding Menopause

Menopause marks the point where you’ve gone 12 months in a row without a period. The average age for this is around 51, but it can happen at younger or older ages. During the months or years before menopause, your body goes through many changes. It may be helpful to understand these changes and what you can do about the symptoms that result.

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Perimenopause is sometimes called the menopause transition. It occurs in the months or years before menopause. It may begin when you reach your mid-40s. During this time, your estrogen levels go up and down and then decrease. As a result, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Menstrual periods that come more or less often than usual

  • Menstrual periods that are lighter or heavier than normal

  • Increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Mood swings

  • Vaginal dryness with possible painful sexual activity

  • Difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep

  • Decreased sexual drive and function

  • Urinating frequently

It is important to remember that you could become pregnant until 12 months have passed since your last menstrual period. Ask your health care provider about birth control options. 

Controlling symptoms

Your health care provider may suggest pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) that contain the hormone progesterone. This can make your periods more regular and prevent excess bleeding. If you have symptoms due to lower estrogen levels, your health care provider may suggest pills that contain estrogen and/or progesterone. This is called hormone therapy (HT).  There are also other prescription medicines that help control some of the bothersome symptoms, like hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.

Other ways for you to deal with symptoms are listed below.

  • Hot flashes. Wear layers that you can remove. Try all-cotton clothing, sheets, and blankets. Keep a glass of cold water by your bed.

  • Pain during sex. You can buy a water-based lubricant or vaginal moisturizer in the drugstore that may help. Your health care provider may also prescribe an estrogen cream for your vagina.

  • Mood swings. Talking to friends who are going through the same changes can sometimes help.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sacks, Daniel, MD, FACOG
Last Review Date: 5/10/2015
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