Menopause is one of the natural stages of aging that women go through. It usually happens between the mid-40s and mid-50s, though some women might experience it as early as their mid-30s. It officially marks the end of a woman’s reproductive period.
Menopause is preceded by perimenopause, a period many mistake for menopause, and it is succeeded by post-menopause.
The main symptoms of the perimenopause phase include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. It is also common for women in perimenopause to have irregular periods which might be more painful or heavier than regular. This phase typically lasts around four years, though in rare cases it can start seven to ten years prior to menopause. Its symptoms often carry over to menopause and postmenopause.
So, how long does menopause last? Following the end of perimenopause, women enter menopause. This phase is defined as the absence of period for a full 12 months. Keep reading for more info on its duration, symptoms, possible complications, and treatment methods.
Perimenopause, or the phase preceding menopause, usually happens in the mid-40s. However, it can start as early as the mid-30s. Hysterectomy, damage of the ovaries by chemotherapy, and PCOS are the most common reasons for early onset perimenopause.
The symptoms of the perimenopause phase usually continue throughout the menopause and into postmenopause phases. However, they tend to become milder and less frequent once the woman enters postmenopause. It is not uncommon for the hot flashes to go on for as much as 10 years after the end of perimenopause.
Changes in period intensity, dry skin, breast tenderness, dry mouth, and worse PMS may accompany perimenopause. Other symptoms include tachycardia, aching joints and muscles, weight gain, problems with memory, the inability to concentrate, headaches, and hair loss. If you experience any of the additional symptoms, make sure to contact your doctor, as these might come from other serious conditions.
How long does menopause last? What are the symptoms and how to deal with them? Menopause happens right after perimenopause and lasts for one year. The symptoms that started in perimenopause carry over into menopause. During this phase, they can be milder, the same or even worse than in perimenopause. However, once the postmenopause phase kicks in, they tend to become less severe and frequent, until they completely cease.
The most frequently reported symptoms in the menopause phase include:
- Hot flashes. Hot flashes manifest as abrupt rushes of warmth in the upper body and face. They have been reported to last anywhere between a couple of seconds to several minutes. Sometimes they may last longer. As for frequency, they can happen from several times a month to several times a day.
- Night sweats or nocturnal hot flashes. They can cause sleeping problems and even lead to insomnia. Some women feel tired throughout the day after they had night sweats.
- Mood swings. It is not uncommon for women in menopause to experience mood swings. These can be accompanied by depression and irritability. Also, the frequency and severity differ from woman to woman.
- Vaginal dryness. Vaginal dryness is one of the common symptoms of menopause. It can be accompanied by a decreased sex drive, discomfort during sex, or an urgent and unstoppable need to urinate. Together, these symptoms are called GSM – genitourinary syndrome of menopause.
- Cold flashes. They usually follow hot flashes and manifest as cold feet, chills, or shivers.
Dealing with the Symptoms
Though unpleasant and irritating, the symptoms of the menopause can be dealt with. Here are some of the most common ways to manage them.
- Emotional changes and insomnia. To battle emotional changes and troubles with sleep, try to avoid afternoon naps, and don’t sleep in noisy or too warm rooms. You shouldn’t drink alcohol or do heavy exercise in the evening. Also, make sure to avoid coffee in the afternoon and evening hours. Large meals should also be avoided after noon. Staying physically active can help you successfully deal with insomnia and mood swings.
- Hot flashes. Alcohol and spicy food are known to cause hot flashes, so be careful with them. Always have a fan at hand, and wear layers that you can take off when the flashes start. Low-dose contraceptives can help with hot flashes if the periods haven’t completely stopped.
- Vaginal dryness. OTC vaginal moisturizer can help you deal with this problem on a regular basis. On the other hand, it is recommended to use a water-based lubricant during sex.
Menopausal Hormone Therapy
In some cases, doctors may prescribe MHT – menopausal hormone therapy. This treatment was once known as hormone replacement therapy or HRT. It can be very helpful with the night sweats, vaginal dryness, sleep disorders and problems, irritability, and hot flashes.
That being said, MHT comes with a set of unpleasant side effects. These might include bloating, mood swings, headaches, vaginal bleeding, tender or swollen breasts, and nausea.
Research results have shown that women taking MHT run a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots. Other studies have found that women on MHT longer than five years are also at a higher risk of breast cancer.
Irregular periods are normal during perimenopause. Usually, they are nothing to worry about.
However, this issue can be the result of cervical cancer or PCOS, and it’s important to diagnose those conditions early. Make sure to go to your doctor if you bleed or spot after sex or a period, or if your periods are unusually long, too frequent, or they are unusually heavy and include blood clots.
The drop in estrogen levels during menopause and postmenopause exposes women to a higher risk of both heart diseases and osteoporosis. Also, women in menopause and postmenopause can contract urinary infections more easily. This is because in this period the urethra and vagina become dryer and more sensitive.
The symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause typically get milder and less frequent, eventually ceasing altogether. Around four years is the average time it takes the symptoms to stop, though in some women they can linger on for up to ten years into postmenopause.
Menopause is one of the most significant phases in a woman’s aging process, as it marks the end of the reproductive period. It is preceded by perimenopause and followed by postmenopause. Frequent symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, cold flashes, sleep problems, and so on. Going through menopause can have a great impact on a woman’s everyday routine.
It is highly recommended to regularly see the doctor during perimenopause and menopause, as women become more susceptible to conditions and diseases at this time. The main dangers include osteoporosis, PCOS, heart disease, and cervical cancer.