What happens during menopause? seems to be on the long list of questions that just never get answered. When did time begin? How do you even know you exist? And which armrest is yours at the movie theater?
The difference is, when it comes to the menopause question it really doesn’t have to be this much of a mystery.
Menopause is shrouded in secrecy. Nobody seems to ever tell us what we might experience, how to deal with the symptoms, or if there’s even a menopause test that will tell us if that’s what we’re going through.
So let’s change up the narrative. For starters:
You’re allowed to talk about menopause. It’s not Fight Club.
So here goes.
What happens when you go through menopause?
What is menopause like? Well, there’s no one way to answer that.
There’s no one-size-fits-all here. But knowing the common changes and experiences that you can go through over this time can make the whole thing a little easier to navigate.
When do periods stop during menopause?
Periods stop before menopause—12 months before, to be exact. That’s the definition of menopause: the thing that happens 12 months after your last period.
The phase that leads up to menopause is known as perimenopause.
What happens to hormones during menopause?
Hormone changes are front and center of the menopause drama. Here’s what’s happening to them:
Estrogen: The soundbite here is that estrogen decreases over perimenopause—but it has a bit of a rocky descent. Over this transitionary period, your estrogen levels may go up and down. In some moments, you may have higher levels present than before you even started going through perimenopause.
Yeah, estrogen likes to make quite a performance of its exit.
Many symptoms you may be experiencing, such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes, are the result of the decline of estrogen.
Progesterone: Progesterone is the hormone that’s been helping prepare your body for pregnancy. It also helps you maintain a pregnancy if it happens. When your periods stop, you don’t need this hormone anymore.
As progesterone goes, it can (dramatically) make your period longer, heavier, and more irregular. Great, thanks.
Testosterone: We think of testosterone as a male hormone that has nothing to do with the female reproductive system. But in reality, life is more complicated than that.
Testosterone is very much around. And it does all sorts of things in our bodies to help out with our libido and our bone and muscle density. The production of testosterone declines over time, not because of menopause but just because we’re getting older.
What are the stages of menopause?
Menopause is not one big bang, but rather a gradual process over a period of time.
The whole menopause experience is roughly divided into three stages:
Perimenopause. This is the whole period around menopause when your body starts preparing for the change that’s about to occur. It can begin a full decade or more before you actually hit menopause as your hormones start to shift, and lasts up until when menopause hits (when you stop having periods). Hot tip here, you can still get pregnant during this phase. Do what you need to do with that information.
Menopause. This is when you stop having periods. (Technically measured as the time 12 months after you stop having periods. To be precise.)
Post-menopause. You haven’t had a period for a year. Good side? Symptoms may start to ease. Downside? Because of the low estrogen levels, you may have a higher risk of health complications like osteoporosis.
How does menopause affect your body?
About 85% of women experience symptoms during the whole menopause process. Some common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes in libido
- Mood changes
You may get some of them. You may get all of them. You may get none of them.
The good news is, while menopause itself is not something to be “fixed”, there are measures that you can take to soothe the symptoms.
How long does menopause last?
If only we could give you an easy answer here. We get it. Knowing the distance to the light at the end of that tunnel would be just great right now.
Unfortunately, this journey is really individual. For some women, this life phase starts to come to an end about a year after their last period. For others, it can carry on for a decade.
Wherever you’re at, you don’t have to be there alone. Support exists. Talk to your doctor. (We know that it’s not always easy to get enough time to have all your questions answered but we should still fight for it.) Share your experiences. Rally a community around you.
There’s just no reason for us to do this alone anymore.