What is the menopause and how do you know when you're in it?

Welcome to a new and exciting stage of your life, menopause! We promise this is a beautiful period but undoubtedly, it is full of changes that can pose many questions. That is why we want to explain what menopause is, how, when, and why it happens, and the symptoms you may experience.

What is the menopause?

Menopause is a natural stage of a woman's life and is confirmed when she hasn't had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. It is a natural change in life and on average occurs between 40 and 59 years old (AAFP, 2021) with the average age being 51. You do not need to visit your doctor to confirm that menopause is happening. The absence of menstruation for one year or more is sufficient proof that it is taking place. However, some doctors may request hormone level tests as a control measure (Mayo Clinic, 2021). You already know what menopause is, but why does it happen? Menopause is caused by hormonal changes associated with age. Over time there is a progressive decrease in the production of hormones (progesterone and estrogen) by the ovaries (Torres & Torres, 2018). However, it can also appear as a consequence of (Mayo Clinic, 2021):

  • Ovarian failure. This can be a cause of early menopause before the age of 40.
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Surgery to remove the ovaries.

The stages of menopause

In addition to knowing what menopause is and why it occurs, it is essential to know the three transitional stages:

  • Peri-menopause. This is the initial phase in which there are fewer menstruations, more separated, without menopause occurring. It is common for women to experience many classic symptoms of menopause during this period, but mildly. It has a variable duration, between 3 and 5 years (AAFP, 2021).
  • Menopause, which we defined earlier (AAFP, 2021).
  • Post-menopause. This is the stage that comes after menopause, and it is a stabilisation stage where slowly symptoms begin to improve, and women adapt to their new life (Nathan et al., 2014).

What menopause is and how to identify you are in it

Changes in the body

Now that you know what menopause is and its stages, let's look at some of the menopause symptoms and signs (AAFP, 2021; Mayo Clinic, 2021; NIH, 2017):

  • Changes in menstrual periods
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hot flushes
  • Decreased libido
  • Pain when having sex
  • Greater propensity to have urinary tract infections
  • Urine leakage
  • Chills or night sweats
  • Loss of volume in the breasts
  • Dry skin
  • Finer hair
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Sleep problems
  • The sensation of numbness or numbness of muscles and joints
  • Abdominal distention
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness or depression
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or brain fog
  • Anxiety about the future

Remember that every woman is different. You can have all these menopause symptoms or simply go through this stage without significant discomfort. Most of the symptoms are due to the hormonal changes occurring in this stage. The decrease in estrogen circulating in the body alters the functioning of various organs and systems. However, when you reach post-menopause, estrogens stabilise, which is why many symptoms stop being so noticeable or become milder (Nathan et al., 2014). When talking about what menopause is, it is essential to emphasise that many physical and mental signs and symptoms are also related to age, for example, changes in the skin, problems sleeping and memorising, a propensity to gain weight, and suffering from diseases (Nathan et al., 2014). Now you know what menopause is and how to identify it! Menopause is a beautiful stage of life, especially once you learn to manage and enjoy it. The symptoms can be annoying, but they have a solution. Of course, we invite you to never neglect yourself. Try to lead a healthy lifestyle that allows you to deal with symptoms and prevent complications. References American Academy of Family Physicians. (2021, March 19). ¿Qué es la menopausia? Family doctor. https://es.familydoctor.org/condicion/menopausia/?adfree=true Instituto de la Menopausia. (s.f.). ¿Cuánto dura la postmenopausia? https://www.institutodelamenopausia.com/divulgacion/sintomas/cuanto-dura-la-postmenopausia Mayo Clinic. (2021, July 29). Menopausia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/menopause/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353401 Nathan L., DeCherney A., Laufer N.,Roman A. (2014). Capítulo 59: menopausia y posmenopausia. Diagnóstico y tratamiento ginecobstétricos, Lange 2014 11e. https://accessmedicina.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=1494&sectionid=98133653 NIH. (2017, June 26). ¿Cuáles son las señales y síntomas de la menopausia?. https://www.nia.nih.gov/espanol/cuales-son-senales-sintomas-menopausia WHO. (2020, November 6). Actividad física. https://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity Torres A. & Torres R. (2018, abril). Climaterio y menopausia. Revista de la Facultad de Medicina (México), 61(2), 51-58. http://www.scielo.org.mx/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0026-17422018000200051&lng=es&tlng=es