Menopausal Signs and Symptoms to Spot Early
Women go through an incredible number of “stages” throughout their life- including puberty, adolescence, and child-bearing. No stage is feared, however, like menopause.
The emotional, physical and mental changes that can occur during this part of a woman’s life have led many people to think of menopause as a disease. But Menopause is not a disease; it is a normal biological process that every woman goes through.
With so many fears and myths about menopause, it can be confusing what to believe about when menopause occurs, what it typically feels like for a woman, and how you can navigate it with grace and ease.
When does menopause occur?
Many women believe that menopause starts right at 50. However, when menopause occurs will be unique to you. Some women begin developing menopausal symptoms in their early 30’s or 40’s, for others, it will be in their late 50”s. Factors like genetics (when your mother went through menopause), the health of the ovaries, ethnicity and how a woman cares for herself to slow and prevent the aging process will impact when it begins.
What should you expect when menopause begins?
In the years before a woman’s last period, many symptoms can begin to develop during a period of time prior to menopause, known as perimenopause. Perimenopause is a transitional phase where shifts in your hormone levels can make you feel “off” and not like yourself.
Perimenopause can be brief or last for years (literally a decade or more) and generally precedes menopause. Menopause is formally defined as a blood test (FSH over 50) which says your ovaries are finished producing hormones, along with no menstrual cycle for one entire year.
When menopause hits, many women experience the classic symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and changes in mood or how their brain works. Because perimenopause can cause similar symptoms, understanding what you may experience as your hormones shift in perimenopause as well as menopause is important for every woman to know.
Below is more information which can help you understand what you may experience with an excess or deficiency of female hormones during these important stages of your life.
Estrogen is one of the main hormones made in a woman’s body and is considered to be the primary hormone that makes a woman a woman. This hormone is partially responsible for sexual development in girls during puberty and regulates the growth of the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle. Known as hypoestrogenism, estrogen deficiency refers to lower than normal levels of estrogen which can occur during perimenopause and menopause.
Many of the most notable symptoms associated with menopause are due to estrogen deficiency, including headaches, hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. A less recognized sign of estrogen deficiency is a decrease in bone density which can put you at risk for osteopenia (bone loss) or osteoporosis (severe bone loss) and is associated with fractures of the hip or other bones.
Signs and symptoms of estrogen deficiency include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Foggy thinking
- Memory loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Heart Palpitations
- Minor Anxiety
- Temperature swings
- Decreased sense of sexuality and sexuality
- Reduced stamina
- Dry eyes, skin, and vagina
- Loss of skin radiance
- Sagging breasts and loss of fullness
- Pain with sexual activity
- Weight gain
- Increased back and joint pain
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
Menopause is more complicated than just the decline in estrogen that many women experience. In fact, some women develop an excess (or relative excess) of estrogen during this period of time causing a state called “estrogen dominance”.
Estrogen dominance is caused by increased total amounts of estrogen in a woman’s body or a decline in the balancing hormone for estrogen called progesterone. When progesterone levels decline during perimenopause and menopause, a relative increase in the effects of estrogen can occur causing estrogen dominant symptoms.
Symptoms associated with estrogen dominance include:
- Tender breasts
- Breast swelling
- Water retention
- Weight gain (hips or waist)
- Heavy periods
- Low libido
- Sugar cravings
- Sleep disturbances
- Pelvic cramps
- Nausea (“Start to feel like I did when I was pregnant”)
Women also produce progesterone in their ovaries during their menstrual cycles. Prior to menopause and following ovulation with each menstrual cycle, there is a rise in progesterone levels preparing the uterus for pregnancy to possibly occur. If a woman’s body identifies that it is not pregnant, progesterone levels begin to decline and the menstrual cycle begins.
While adequate progesterone levels are critical for stabilizing the lining of the uterus, this hormone is also important to balance the effects of estrogen in your body. Without sufficient progesterone levels to counter-balance estrogen in the body, symptoms such as poor sleep, mood swings, irritability, and anxiety develop.
- Low libido
- Swollen breasts
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of menstruation
- Fuzzy thinking
Estrogen and progesterone work together to keep a woman’s body in balance. Occasionally a woman will have progesterone excess- typically because she is taking progesterone as prescribed by her physician.
Symptoms you may experience with excess progesterone in the body include:
- Slight dizziness
- A sense of physical instability
- A feeling of being drunk or spinning
- Heaviness of the extremities
Manage Your Menopausal Symptoms for Relief
The sooner you identify the signs and symptoms related to menopause, the sooner you can help to rebalance your hormones and live in health and hormonal harmony. Managing your symptoms early on will help you transition into this important phase of your life as gracefully as possible.
There are a variety of services that can help to manage the most troublesome symptoms of menopause. Ruthie Harper MD is an expert in the use of natural or bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to treat perimenopause and menopause.
Most people have heard of “natural hormones” but remain unclear about what “natural bio-identical hormones” are. Bioidentical hormones are hormones derived from natural sources such as soy or yam’s which mimic the exact hormonal balance the body has when it is making its own natural hormones. Bioidentical hormones relieve the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause and allow you to regain your youthfulness and health.
Balance and Harmony
Women prefer natural bio-identical hormones when compared to the synthetic hormones prescribed by their physicians in the past because of better results, with greater quality of life and minimal side effects. It makes sense to replace and balance our hormones with what nature originally gave you for optimal health.
Bio-identical hormones are not typically available through traditional pharmaceutical prescriptions because bio-identical hormones are not patentable and dosages are individually tailored to each individual’s hormonal needs, unlike prescription hormones where there are only standard dosages that may not exactly fit your needs. For this reason, compounding pharmacies are used to get the exact amount and balance of bioidentical hormones made just for you.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is a useful way of alleviating the pain and suffering which can occur with menopause and represents an important opportunity for improvement in the quality of life for women at this important stage of their life.