What Signals the End of Menopause?
Perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause, doesn’t have a specific timeline. Everybody experiences this normal life transition differently, and it can be challenging to know when menopause is almost over. In this article, we’ll remove some guesswork and help you recognize common signs that you might be approaching the end of menopause.
Does Menopause Ever End?
Fear not; menopause does end, but let’s clarify some terminology before proceeding.
Perimenopause is the transitional time when your body stops creating mature eggs. Levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone drop, and your periods become irregular and eventually stop. Perimenopause lasts until you haven’t had your menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, and this can take from a few months to more than 10 years.
Technically, menopause lasts only one day, the day that marks 12 months without a period. The average age people reach menopause is 51.
- After menopause is reached, you are in post-menopause.
Side note: If your ovaries are surgically removed, or you undergo certain cancer treatments, you will enter induced menopause. This bypasses naturally occurring perimenopause and immediately puts you into post-menopause.
What are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Perimenopause is infamous for the symptoms it brings in the time leading up to menopause. The physical changes you go through during perimenopause are dramatic and affect many systems in your body. Here’s a list of some of the most common symptoms
you can expect leading up to menopause:
- Hot Flashes
- Sleep Problems
- Weight Gain
- Decreased Libido
- Depression and Anxiety
- Brain Fog
- Vaginal Dryness
What Signals the Beginning of the Menopause Transition?
The first sign that you are starting perimenopause is usually changes in your menstrual period. You may notice your period becomes irregular, longer or shorter, and heavier or lighter. A drop in estrogen levels causes these changes in your cycle.
Early in perimenopause, lower estrogen also frequently causes hot flashes, a sudden sensation of extreme heat often radiating from the chest up into the neck and face. Hot flashes can make you sweat, turn red, have a racing heartbeat, and feel anxious. When hot flashes happen at night, they are called night sweats.
If you suspect you’re in perimenopause but can’t tell for sure, your doctor can perform a simple hormone test. Early in perimenopause, your estrogen will be low, and a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) will likely be high. Although hormone tests can help you gauge if you’re in perimenopause, be aware that they cannot give you a definite diagnosis.
As perimenopause continues, you are more likely to experience more symptoms caused by hormonal changes. However, your menopause experience will be unique to you, and you may or may not have a lot of symptoms. Some people endure all the known menopause symptoms, while others only experience a few.
If your symptoms interfere with your day-to-day functioning and well-being, it is essential for you to visit your healthcare professional to discuss treatment options and strategies for coping with your symptoms. Menopause may be a natural transition, but it doesn’t have to be miserable.
What Signals the End of Menopause Transition?
The primary evidence that you are close to the end of menopause is that your periods will become lighter and further apart. You might skip your period for months at a time and then have a short, light cycle. Eventually, you will skip your period for 12 straight months.
Moodiness and irritability tend to improve the closer you are to the end of menopause, but vaginal dryness often gets worse. Vaginal dryness can lead to urinary tract and vaginal infections, itching, and painful penetrative sex. Vaginal moisturizers, lubrication, and vaginal estrogen creams can minimize this symptom and improve your comfort.
Hot flashes can temporarily get worse towards the very end of perimenopause. Without hormone therapy, many people will have hot flashes for a few years after menopause, although they usually improve in intensity and frequency over time.
If you’ve been having hormone-related headaches, you might notice they improve closer to the end of menopause. They improve because hormones are stabilizing at their new, permanently low levels.
Weight Gain During Menopause
Weight gain is a symptom that can cause a lot of distress for people during the menopause transition. Luckily, it tends to slow down in post menopause, but by then, many people have already put on a significant amount of weight.
The body changes seen in menopause are not only caused by weight gain but by changes in fat distribution caused by low estrogen. During menopause, fat tends to accumulate around the abdomen, creating more of an apple shape. Muscle mass and metabolism also decrease due to hormone changes and aging. All of these factors lead to the dreaded “middle-aged spread.”
Having visceral fat, fat around your middle, is not only an issue of aesthetics.
It can increase the risk of developing several health conditions, such as heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.
Self-Care During Menopause
The menopause transition is a perfect time to get serious about self-care. During menopause, you are going through dramatic changes in your body and mind, and self-care will help you manage your symptoms and stay healthy and happy.
Finetune your diet and choose foods that support your body during and after menopause. High fiber, high protein, veggie-rich diets protect your heart and bone health and can minimize menopause-related weight gain.
Supplements might be beneficial, as well. For example, black cohosh, green tea, and soy isoflavones have shown clinically significant benefits regarding hot flashes, cholesterol levels, and heart health.
Some products are on the market, such as Menoquil, that contain numerous beneficial supplements to tackle menopause symptoms. Menoquil contains black cohosh, green tea, soy isoflavones, vitamins that help to keep bones strong, and more. User reviews rave about Menoquil’s impact on their hot flashes, mood swings, and brain fog.
Move your body every day in ways that you think are fun. Regular exercise can protect your heart and bone health, improve your mood and sleep, and help you stay at a healthy weight. There is some evidence it can even improve hot flashes and night sweats.
Create a bedtime routine that minimizes stress and encourages a good night’s sleep. Turn off your screens and keep them out of your bedroom. Go to bed at the same time every night in a cool, comfortable room. Try incorporating meditation or relaxation techniques and avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime.
Work with your doctor to formulate a game plan that supports you through your menopause transition and beyond. Medical treatments and lifestyle changes can improve your symptoms and help you feel great.
The last stage before menopause is late perimenopause (or stage -1 perimenopause.) During this time, menstrual periods become highly irregular and space out further and further.
Some symptoms, like hot flashes, might temporarily get worse at the end of menopause, while others, like headaches and moodiness, can improve.
Different people will experience different challenges after menopause. Some people might have to deal with depression and anxiety; others with weight gain and body image issues. After menopause, people are at greater risk of developing problems like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and high cholesterol. Any or all of these health conditions could present challenges.
Yes, but don’t be surprised if it’s harder to lose weight after menopause than when you were younger. Exercise, a good diet, and healthy lifestyle choices will go a long way to helping you maintain or lose weight. Being physically active has the added benefits of improving muscle mass and helping to strengthen your bones.
There is no cut-and-dry answer as to when you might be at the end of menopause, but there are clues you can look for. The transitional period before menopause ends is an excellent time to learn to listen to your body and give it what it needs to feel its best. You’re going through an extreme physical evolution, and you deserve all the physical and emotional support you need. Prioritize self-care, and don’t hesitate to ask for outside help if you need it.