Menopause occurs for women when their ovaries stop producing eggs and their body decreases the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This natural change isn’t sudden—it usually happens gradually between the ages of 45 and 55. During this transitional time (known as perimenopause), some women experience symptoms related to changes in their hormone levels.
Are you wondering if you’ve begun going through perimenopause? Below are 5 signs that could be indicators that your body is going through this change.
Female Hormone Levels by Age
Menopause is technically defined as having occurred when a woman has missed her period every month for a year. However, before you completely stop having your period, it will likely become more irregular and eventually taper off. Some women actually experience heavier periods at times due to fluctuations in their hormone levels. Irregular periods typically start about four years before actual menopause.
Although not every woman will experience them, hot flashes (a sudden warm feeling around the face, neck, or chest) are the most common symptom of menopause. You may also experience night sweats, heart palpitations, reddening of the face, or cold chills. The severity of hot flashes, as well as the exact pattern of symptoms, varies from woman to woman. It’s not fully known why this occurs, but it’s believed that changes in estrogen levels affect the part of the brain that regulates body temperature.
You may experience unexplained changes in your emotional state, irritability, anxiety, sadness, or increased stress at various times while going through menopause. These mood swings may be caused at least in part by changes in hormone levels. Estrogen affects the production of serotonin, a brain chemical associated with mood regulation.
A drop in estrogen levels can also lead to thinning of the vaginal tissues and a decrease in the production of natural vaginal secretions. This can produce symptoms such as vaginal dryness, itching, stinging, more frequent urination, or pain during sex.
Low Sex Drive
Pain due to vaginal dryness may be one reason some women experience a decrease in sexual interest during menopause, but it’s not the only possible explanation for loss of libido. As with other menopause symptoms, low sex drive may in part be due to a hormonal imbalance. It may also have to do with a wide range of other factors, including stress and fatigue related to menopause.
Treatment for Menopause Symptoms
While you can’t stop menopause from happening, there are things you can do to manage your symptoms. If you’re experiencing hot flashes, you can try keeping your bedroom cool at night, wearing lightweight clothing with easily removable layers, keeping ice water nearby, or trying deep breathing exercises. Some women also find that dietary changes and regular exercise can help reduce the severity of their symptoms.
If you have severe menopause symptoms and find that lifestyle changes don’t help, talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy. Some women use medications such as Premarin, Estrace, or CombiPatch to increase the amount of estrogen and/or progestin in their body, which can lead to a reduction in menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Of course, as with all prescription drugs, hormone replacement therapy medications come with a risk of certain side effects, and some health conditions preclude women from using this type of treatment. You’ll need to talk to your doctor to determine if hormone replacement therapy is a good option for you.