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Menopause - what to know

Now that we have the basics down and understand how hormones work in our body, let’s move on to the next phase in our lives; Menopause.  The word Menopause comes from the...

Now that we have the basics down and understand how hormones work in our body, let’s move on to the next phase in our lives; Menopause. 

The word Menopause comes from the Greek words 'menos', meaning month, and 'pause', meaning to cease. It refers to the cessation of your monthly ovulation cycle. It’s a single point in time when a woman has not had her period for 12 consecutive months and therefore it’s a (easy!) self-diagnosis made in hindsight. However, often times when speaking about “menopause” what is really meant is the phase leading up to it when symptoms emerge and are often at its worst. This phase, peri-menopause, in simple terms, means around menopause (peri- around).

Peri-menopause 

Women are born with a fixed ovarian reserve (= number of eggs) in their body, and this will eventually run out somewhere in their mid forties. When there are few/ no eggs left to fertilize your ovaries gradually stop working, and the production of the two key female hormones estrogen and progesterone decreases significantly. Progesterone production will decrease first and it tends to be a steep but steady decline. Estrogen will follow a similar steep curve but it will fluctuate a LOT as it decreases (image 3).

Perimenopause can be very unpredictable. Your menstrual cycle will change dramatically - periods can become heavier and (much) more frequent, or the exact opposite can happen where your periods become less severe and your cycle longer. For most women it’s a very confusing time that we are not well prepared for.

Peri-menopause can take anywhere from a year to over a decade to complete. For most of us peri-menopause will start in our mid 40s, but for a significant (3.7%) amount of women it will start as early as their 20s or 30s. Which can be incredibly scary and difficult especially if you are still hoping to have biological children. 

Peri-menopause can be devided into two sub phases:

  • Early peri-menopause: this is where you start experiencing symptoms but your menstrual cycle is still regular. This can be quite confusing and very often women (and their doctors) don’t realise they’ve started their menopause journey.
  • Late peri-menopause: your cycle has become irregular, you may have started skipping periods, and you’ve started experiencing some symptoms. 

Symptoms that can be treated

There are 34 symptoms that are frequently associated with the menopause transition. Some are caused by a decrease in absolute levels of a hormone, while others are the result of fluctuating levels or imbalances between the three hormones - Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone. 

The rate at which your hormones decrease, the absolute and relative amounts at any time (= fluctuations) and the age at which this starts is different for every woman. While genetics and your medical history may put you at higher risk for certain symptoms, overall the combination and severity of symptoms is unique for every woman and impossible to predict. We have written fact sheets for the most common symptoms going deeper into what the symptom is, why it happens and treatment options. In general there are a couple of key points that you should know:

  • 80-85% of women will experience symptoms that they describe as significant 
  • On average a woman will experience 4 - 5 symptoms
  • Some symptoms are transient meaning they will go away on their own once your hormones settle in Menopause
  • Other symptoms will not get better without treatment such as Osteoporosis, urinary tract symptoms (incl UTIs) and Vaginal dryness.

The eight most common symptoms are listed in the next section. For more detailed information including diagnosis and effective treatment methods please click on the relevant symptom or click here to view all symptoms.

FAQ

Frequently asked question by Women Like You

Sources used

Sources we have used to base the content of this article on.

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