Menopause is a major milestone in a woman's life, but not every woman
reaches it at the same age. American women generally enter menopause between
ages 45 and 55--the average age is 51--but it's not unheard of for
some women to experience "the change" in their 30s or their
60s. That's a wide range, so it helps to know what signs to look for
when the time comes, says
Lina Wong, DO, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group.
"Women typically are considered menopausal if they've gone without
a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months," Dr. Wong says. "But
the first stage of menopause, called perimenopause, can start well before
that--and so can the symptoms."
One early, telltale symptom of perimenopause is an irregular menstrual
cycle. "Because women's bodies stop producing enough estrogen
and progesterone, their periods lessen in frequency, perhaps occurring
every couple of months or so," Dr. Wong says. "It's important
to note that women can still get pregnant during this time."
Another major sign is the hot flash. This rush of heat in the body can
last for a few minutes at a time, can occur multiple times a day and cause
perspiration, an increased heart rate and night sweats. Other signs include
mood swings, sleep problems, dry skin as well as vaginal dryness, weight
gain and thinning hair.
"Just as women can begin menopause at different ages, they can experience
symptoms in different ways," Dr. Wong says. "Some women may
not have many physical issues, while others may have some that last for
years. Other women may also enter menopause early--for instance, if they
have a family history of early menopause, they smoke or had a hysterectomy."
If you are experiencing irregular periods or other symptoms that are affecting
your daily life, talk with your doctor.
"There's no one-size-fits-all test to determine if you've
started the perimenopause phase, but your physician can take into consideration
your symptoms, health history, age and other factors as well as possibly
check your hormone levels," says Dr. Wong. "A visit with your
doctor can help rule out other possible medical conditions--for instance,
hypothyroidism can cause similar symptoms--or, if your doctor determines
you are perimenopausal, you can get guidance on hormone therapy options
or assistance with any symptoms that are bothering you, such as changes
in mood or hot flashes."
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