Like most women, you likely have a busy and active life. That's why you may have been caught by surprise when you started noticing changes in your body. Mood swings and shifting sleep patterns may be symptoms of approaching menopause. This is the point at which periods stop for good. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. But many notice symptoms well before their periods truly stop.

Symptoms of Change

Women often begin having symptoms of menopause in their mid-40s. Menopause might happen earlier or later for you. Some common symptoms include:

  • Hot flashes

  • Periods that come more or less often, or are lighter or heavier than you are used to

  • Increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

  • Night sweats, trouble sleeping

  • Mood swings

  • Fatigue

Estrogen and Your Health

Your ovaries (female organs that make and store eggs) produce varying levels of estrogen throughout your life. Estrogen is a hormone (chemical messenger). It has many important functions. Estrogen helps control the menstrual cycle and helps prevent bone loss. Before menopause, your body's estrogen may also provide protection against heart disease.

Estrogen Affects Your:

  • Menstrual cycle

  • Height

  • Weight

  • Skin tone

  • Muscle strength

  • Digestion

  • Heart rate

  • Circulation

Estrogen Helps Control Your Cycle

The ovaries produce both estrogen and progesterone, another hormone. Changing levels of these hormones control the menstrual cycle. Ovulation (the release of a ripened egg) is part of that cycle. So is menstruation (shedding the lining of the uterus).

At the Start of Your Cycle

  • Tiny egg sacs (follicles) ripen and produce estrogen.

  • You're likely to have few or no symptoms.

In the Middle of Your Cycle

  • Estrogen level increases.

  • The uterine lining thickens.

  • Ovulation occurs.

  • Progesterone is released, further thickening the uterine lining.

  • You may have symptoms. These can include vaginal mucus changes, breast tenderness, mild cramping, or headaches.

Toward the End of Your Cycle

  • Progesterone and estrogen levels decrease.

  • If the egg is not fertilized, you do not become pregnant. The uterine lining is shed.

  • You may have bleeding, bloating, tiredness, irritability, cramping, or headaches.

The Stages of Menopause

The months or years before menopause are called perimenopause. During this time, the ovaries begin to run out of eggs and produce fewer hormones. This can lead to symptoms such as hot flashes and changes in your menstrual cycle. Twelve months after your last period, you've reached menopause. Beyond this point, you are in postmenopause.

Perimenopause: When Changes Begin

Your estrogen level starts to decrease. Some women have a sudden onset of symptoms. Others notice changes over time. Common symptoms include:

  • Changes in the menstrual cycle. Periods may be closer together for a while. Then they may be further apart. Bleeding also may be heavier or lighter than usual.

  • Hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, mood swings, breast tenderness, or bloating.

Abnormal Bleeding

Be sure to call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Heavy, long, or irregular periods

  • Spotting in the middle of your cycle

  • Bleeding after intercourse

These symptoms may be caused by health problems that need treatment.







Postmenopause: After Your Periods End

Your estrogen level is now very low. You no longer ovulate and your periods have stopped. You are likely to have symptoms. They may include:

  • Changes in the texture of your skin and hair.

  • Vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, and mood swings.

Surgical Menopause

Menopause can occur after a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) if the ovaries are also removed. Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease quickly. This may cause sudden and severe symptoms.

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Did You Know?

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The average age of a woman having her last period is age 51.