Menopause is something that all women go through, but not every woman has the same experience. Some suffer terribly while others breeze through menopause without giving it much thought. We’ll take a look at the two sides of the menopause coin, explore the good and the bad, and try to understand why some women have an easier time dealing with menopause than others.
What is Menopause?
Put simply, menopause is a series of changes a woman goes through after or directly before she stops menstruating. This change is the line between the reproductive period of a woman’s life and when that period is over.
Menopause usually occurs sometime after the age of 40 and signals a time when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing an egg every month. During menopause, a woman’s ovaries produce less estrogen — a hormone that affects various parts of the body including the heart, breasts, urinary system, reproductive organs, and even the brain.
There are three stages of menopause:
- The first is perimenopause. This stage lasts for several years and comes before actual menopause. In the last year or two of this stage, a woman can begin to experience menopause symptoms. During perimenopause, women can experience fatigue or trouble sleeping, irregular periods, lowered sex drive, and hot flashes.
- The second stage is menopause itself. The defining factor of menopause is when a woman has irregular periods, going longer stretches at a time without a menstrual cycle until she does not have a period for a 12-month time span. Menopause is a significant change in a woman’s lifetime and some of the symptoms can be more varied or more pronounced than those in perimenopause. Common menopausal symptoms include: hot flashes, weight gain, hair loss / thinning hair, anxiety, breast tenderness,dizziness, and trouble concentrating. Many of these symptoms occur as a result of the ovaries producing less estrogen.
- The final stage is postmenopause. During this stage menopause symptoms decrease or stop altogether. Many women find that they regain their energy and many of the symptoms stop. Although it’s not common for a woman to become pregnant when she’s going through menopause, it’s recommended to continue using contraception until your doctor says that you are officially postmenopausal.
How Long Does Menopause Last?
For most women, the journey from the start of perimenopause and the end of menopause is four years. Of course, no two women are the same. For some, this process will take longer and they will have symptoms — such as hot flashes — longer, as well.
While perimenopause typically begins during your 40s, the average age where women stop going through menopause is 51.
How Women View Menopause
While it is assumed that all women hate the idea of menopause, that’s not actually true. Many women welcome the change. They find several reasons to be happy about reaching menopause.
These reasons tend to include the fact that they no longer have to worry about getting pregnant nor do they have to deal with monthly menstruation and the discomfort it can bring. This can have a liberating effect for many women. Also gone are the breast tenderness, monthly mood swings, and food cravings.
Of course, not every woman is thrilled with the process. Some women feel powerless and as if they have no control over their own bodies.
However, one group of women appears to have a much harder time with menopause: women who have been sexually, emotionally, verbally or physically abused at some point during their life.
This group of women tends to have higher menopause symptom scores. While there is no cause and effect between abuse and difficult menopause, there does seem to be a correlation.
In addition, some women find themselves suffering with depression during menopause. A recent study by the CDC indicated that risk of suicide increases 28% over a 10-year period for middle aged people, up to age 64. This grouping includes women who are in menopause transition period. Many menopausal women experience mood swings due to fluctuation in estrogen, progesterone, and endorphin levels.
In turn, those mood swings can transform into depression, marked by feelings of anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, listlessness, fits of crying, irritability, and even thoughts of suicide.
If you or someone you love has been dealing with severe menopausal depression, it may be time to seek out a menopausal specialist to help you understand more about your condition and the changes you’re going through.
How to Make Menopause Easier
There are things you can do to make menopause easier. That includes exercising, eating right, and getting plenty of vitamins and minerals.
You can also find a support group to join, so you can share your experiences and know you’re not alone.
Menopause certainly has its ups and downs but it isn’t all bad. How you frame the experience in your own mind will go a long way to helping you embrace the positive aspects of the experience instead of dreading them.
Have you or a loved one gone through menopause yet? What was your experience? What were the most difficult parts and what were some of the better parts of menopause? We’d love it if you shared your experiences in the comments below.