What Is Menopause?
Menopause can be a frustrating time of life for some women, for others, no symptoms at all. As frustrating puberty and the onset of hormonal function is, menopause and the decline of hormonal function in the ovary is just as disconcerting.
And just as teen girls can have irregular cycles and mood swings entering into puberty due to hormonal imbalance, these are the same symptoms that herald the onset of perimenopause.
Menopause and perimenopausal symptoms can be confusing. Many women don’t necessarily associate their symptoms (increased migraines, weight gain, foggy thinking, muscle and joint aches and pains) with hormone imbalance.
Menopause is marked by a full year without a menstrual period. Average age of menopause is 51, however, the age range is broad, from 42-60. Early menopause in younger women is termed premature ovarian failure.
Symptoms begin in the perimenopausal time frame and include bleeding irregularities including heavy bleeding, breakthrough bleeding between cycles, and irregular periods with skipped cycles. This is due to the hormone imbalance occurring as the ovary produces erratic levels of estrogen and progesterone. Additional symptoms are related to the irregular rise and fall of hormones including migraine headaches, irritability, depression and anxiety. Many women experience foggy thinking and memory loss. Lack of estrogen can result in lack of sex drive (libido) and vaginal dryness causing painful intercourse.
Menopause (when you have had no periods for one year) signals that the majority of ovarian function has stopped and hormonal production of estrogen and testosterone is significantly decreased.
Many women will then notice increased abdominal weight gain. Fat cells trigger a conversion of a weak estrogen to a stronger estrogen, so this is the bodies way of increasing estrogen production. In addition, as we get older, we start to lose muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat so without changing diet or exercise, we will have a reduced resting metabolic rate and burn fewer calories and this will lead to subtle weight gain over time.