For many women, entering menopause is a daunting experience. Despite being a completely normal and natural process, limited resources and education about the transition have led to a larger amount of misinformation, societal shame, and confusion about menopause. But this doesn’t have to be your experience!
The intention of our articles and research on menopause is to help women feel empowered about every stage of life including female fertility.
Learning about menopause is one of the best ways to prepare and educate yourself and your loved ones about the many exciting changes that this next chapter of life brings. As a natural and beautiful part of the female reproductive cycle, taking the steps to change the negative narrative around menopause is essential in helping women get better connected to the resources and support they need — and we are here to help.
Stay Connected – You Are Not Alone……..and You Are Not Crazy
We want all women to know that they are not alone or crazy in feeling significant emotional, physical, and mental symptoms throughout their transition into menopause. With many women experiencing a wide variety of symptoms throughout their transition, it is very easy to feel like you are alone in your symptoms — but this is not the case.
Learning more about menopause can help to open the doors to conversations about your experiences, which is one of the best ways to get the support and care you need from your loved ones and medical providers.
The intent of this article is not to cause stress or anxiety about what is to come — we want to help inspire, educate, and uplift all women beginning their menopause journey.
Knowledge is power, so let’s use it to our advantage as we take the first steps into the next chapter of our lives.
Menopause is a Natural Part of Life
To better understand the causes and symptoms of menopause, we must first understand the natural female reproductive cycle. Our reproductive cycle largely dictates a woman’s growth, development, and fertility depending on what stage of the cycle she is in. Associated with our age, the five stages of the life-long female reproductive cycle include:
- Pre-puberty — Starting at birth, young girls produce a low level of sex hormones estrogen and progesterone from their ovaries as they grow from infant to young teenager. Over time, the natural levels of these hormones begin to increase, with a large spike of hormone production occurring at the onset of puberty. During the pre-puberty stage, young women are not able to become pregnant and are not likely to experience any reproductive health symptoms.
- Puberty and the initiation of the menstrual cycle — Typically beginning around age twelve, the beginning of puberty is marked by a sharp increase in the amount of hormone created by the ovaries. These new higher levels of hormones cause many changes in the female body, including the development of breasts, increased growth of leg and armpit hair, and the initiation of the menstrual cycle and period. Puberty marks the beginning of a woman’s reproductive or fertile years. On average, a woman remains fertile for thirty years after the beginning of their first period.
- Reproductive years — After the onset of the menstrual cycle, a young woman is now able to become pregnant. The menstrual cycle is propelled forward by changes in estrogen levels throughout the month. During this cycle, a fully-developed ovum will be released from the ovaries to be potentially fertilized in order to become pregnant. If this does not occur, menstruation (shedding of the inner lining of the uterus) will begin, marking the beginning of a woman’s monthly period. The menstrual cycle repeats itself roughly every 28 days throughout the entire duration of a woman’s fertile years.
- Perimenopause — As the first stage of menopause, perimenopause typically begins as a woman enters the second half of their forties. As women age, the amount of estrogen and progesterone created by the ovaries steadily decreases as the number of eggs in the ovaries declines. Characterised by irregular periods and the development of early menopause symptoms, women in the perimenopause stage of their fertility cycle are still able to become pregnant, though the chances of this occurring are lower than during their reproductive years.
- Menopause — After the onset of perimenopause, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels will continue to decrease until they no longer have their period. Once a woman has not had a period from one calendar year, they are considered to be in the menopausal stage of their reproductive cycle. It is very common for women to experience more profound symptoms of low estrogen levels during the menopausal stage.
Common Symptoms of Menopause
Estrogen is used by many different areas of the female body. Because of this, once a woman enters perimenopause as a result of decreased estrogen levels, many different symptoms can arise throughout the entire body. As a completely unique experience for every woman, some women may have very mild symptoms during this time, while others may develop more severe symptoms of menopause that require additional medical support and attention.
Some of the most common signs of menopause include:
- Changes to the menstrual period — As the most common symptom of menopause, some women experience significant changes to their menstrual period as they transition out of their reproductive years. These changes can include changes to their period frequency, heavier menstrual flow, and spotting.
- Hot flashes — Described as a sudden feeling of increased temperature throughout the body, hot flashes are thought to be connected to a decrease in estrogen. During an episode, a woman may experience facial flushing, sweating, and the development of a rash on the chest and arms. A hot flash can last anywhere from a few seconds to up to ten minutes.
- General aches and pains — The development of generalized aches and pains (often in joints such as the knees, ankles, hips, and hands) is a common symptom of menopause. Researchers have found that post-menopausal women are significantly more likely to develop osteoarthritis and joint pain than those in their reproductive years, which is believed to be caused by increased age and decreased estrogen levels.
- Sleep disturbances — During the transition into menopause, hormonal changes can have a significant impact on a woman’s ability to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Many women in the perimenopausal and menopausal stages often complain of increased difficulty falling asleep, waking up throughout the night, and night sweats caused by hot flashes occurring during sleep.
- Vaginal dryness — Estrogen is the primary sexual hormone related to the female sex drive. During menopause, it is very common for women to experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse more uncomfortable than during their fertile years. In addition to this, some women report a decreased desire to partake in any sexual activity.
- Mood changes — On top of the multitude of physical changes occurring during menopause, it is very common for women to experience changes in their general mood as well. Ranging from mood swings to the development of depression and anxiety, menopause can be a very trying time for many women as their bodies slowly transition and change.
In addition to these common symptoms, many women also experience changes to their overall appearance including loss of muscle mass, increased development of body fat, and thinning of the skin.
Because every woman is different, it is impossible to predict how severe and frequent your menopause symptoms will be until they begin.
To combat this uncertainty, educating yourself about what is to come is one of the best ways to prevent additional stress and isolation as your transition into the next chapter.
How You Can Take Control of Your Menopause Symptoms
With all of this being said, we don’t want to scare or worry any women who are getting ready to enter into menopause. This does not need to be a time of sadness, shame, or stress — instead, it can be viewed as a celebration of new changes and experiences to come.
As you begin to experience perimenopause, a great way to stay on top of your symptoms is to keep a personal journal about your experience. Great for recording your thoughts, feelings, and daily symptoms, writing down your daily experiences can help to identify symptom patterns. Able to help in the official diagnosis of menopause, recording your period-related symptoms can also help prepare yourself for any potential changes to your menstrual cycle.
For many women, finding natural ways to take back control over their menopause symptoms is helpful in making their transition a less negative experience. With many mild menopause symptoms capable of being managed from home through natural means, providing education about at-home remedies can be incredibly helpful for women experiencing menopause symptoms for the first time. Some examples of natural ways to manage menopause include:
- Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants later in the day (any time past 3 pm) to allow for improved quality of sleep.
- Practicing mindful meditation to increase relaxation, regulate mood, and decrease daily stress levels.
- Eat a balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help support your body throughout the transition.
- Increasing your daily exercise level (including low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and yoga) to improve joint mobility, heart health, and daily energy levels.
- Avoiding environmental triggers that are known to make your symptoms worse. Many women notice that warm beverages, spicy food, alcohol, smoking tobacco, and hot weather can trigger more severe hot flashes.
When to Speak with Your Healthcare Provider About Your Menopause Symptoms
Because of societal stigma, many women do not seek medical attention for their menopause symptoms even when they begin to impact their quality of life. We want to help empower women to seek out the care and support they deserve to make this transition as comfortable and easy as possible.
While many women are able to manage their symptoms through natural lifestyle changes, this is not always the case for those with more profound menopause symptoms. If you notice any significant change in your mood, are unable to sleep, have significant pain when trying to have sexual intercourse, or have a feeling like you are not yourself, we recommend seeking medical care to better treat your symptoms of menopause.
To better prepare for your appointment, here are a few essential tips for ensuring you get the care and attention you deserve:
- Bring in a list of your symptoms — In the weeks leading up to your appointment, creating a list of your symptoms including severity, timing, and frequency can be an incredibly helpful resource for your primary care provider to reference.
- Ask a family member to join you — If possible, bringing a family member or friend who understands the severity of your symptoms to your appointment can help provide you additional support and encouragement.
- Prepare a list of questions — A couple of days before your appointment, it can be helpful to write a list of questions you have for your healthcare provider. This is a great way to ensure that you leave your appointment with all of the information and answers you need to better manage your symptoms.
- Be ready to advocate for yourself — At the end of the day, you are the person who knows yourself the best. If you feel like your symptoms are having a profound impact on your quality of life, make sure your healthcare provider knows!
Are You Ready For the Next Chapter?
The transition into menopause does not need to be a stressful and negative experience. Capable of being a time of self-reflection, appreciation, and even increased exploration and adventure, the transition into menopause is a great time to reconnect with yourself and your body.
Spending quality time with yourself through symptom journaling and incorporating sustainable lifestyle changes into your daily routine allows for the opportunity to add increased self-appreciation into your day-to-day activities.
At Fit4100, we work hard to empower and inspire women to feel great about the many changes our bodies experience throughout our lifetime. We want to help provide the education and resources needed for all women to fall in love with themselves again as they flow through the natural changes of menopause.