What You Need to Know: Menopause

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For women, once we hit a certain age, our bodies seem to take on a life of their own. We have new aches and pain. Our monthly cycles suddenly become erratic. And our emotions can be all over the map.

Often menopause gets blamed for any new symptom that develops after the age of 40. But how do you know when you are truly nearing menopause or when something else may be going on?

First it is important to understand exactly what menopause is. By definition, menopause occurs when a woman has gone a full year without a menstrual period. The period of time before that last period is called peri-menopause, which can last anywhere from 2-8 years. After that last period you are considered post-menopausal.

On average, women will experience their last period at 50 or 51 years of age, however it could be as early as 45 or as late as 57 or 58. As women approach their last period, most will experience lighter periods with decreasing frequency. However, for 15% of women, they will have normal monthly cycles that suddenly stop. Another 15% will experience heavier periods as they near menopause.

If you believe you may be nearing menopause or experiencing peri-menopause symptoms, you should consider keeping a log of your menstrual cycle. Note not only the day that your period begins but also how many days you bleed, how heavy the bleeding is and if you have any unusual symptoms or spotting between periods. This information is incredibly helpful to your doctor should you need to be seen at some point. Also, by tracking your period now, you will know more precisely when you hit the one-year point, marking the end of menopause for you.

Many women ignore gynecological symptoms, believing they are just another part of menopause. And while many symptoms are, sometimes a symptom may be a sign of something else going on in your body. A few warning signs that should be discussed with your doctor:

  • Excessive Bleeding: If you are bleeding more than ten days out of your cycle, you should discuss it with your doctor. (And remember - your cycle is the time from the start of one period to the start of your next period.)
  • Heavier Bleeding: If you are suddenly bleeding more heavily than you have in the past (changing tampons or pads significantly more often); are experiencing dizziness or light-headedness due to heavy bleeding; or find that your bleeding is altering how you manage your day, discuss it with your doctor.
  • Shorter Cycles: If your cycle (first day of period to first day of next period) is getting shorter and is less than 20 days, contact your doctor.

Each of these symptoms may be linked to one of a number of different conditions, including a thyroid disorder; anemia; fibroids; uterine polyps; or even pregnancy. (You can continue to get pregnant until you are one year past your last menstrual cycle!). To diagnose the underlying cause of these symptoms, your doctor may do one of a variety of diagnostic tests, depending on your symptoms and history.

The only sure way to diagnose a woman as being menopausal is to verify that one year has passed since her last period. Until then, manage your symptoms as best you can but do not hesitate to contact your doctor should your symptoms cause you any concern.

For help finding a gynecologist near you, visit our website.

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