The 3 Stages of Menopause
Many women will report profound changes in their health after the age of 40. This can leave many feeling unsure of what the next stage of their health and life will look like. One of my goals as a naturopathic doctor is to help you understand what's taking place so that you can take the right steps in your healthcare.
In order to understand what happens to the hormones after the age of 40 we first have to understand what happens prior to that time. During a women's reproductive life, under normal circumstances, ovulation takes place every month which either results in pregnancy or a period. Ovulation is an important moment because its the triggering event where hormones are released, particularly estrogen and progesterone. As long as ovulation occurs monthly the supply of hormones is steady.
The problem is that we are only born with a set amount of eggs. As the ovarian reserve and quality of eggs starts to decline with time, ovulation becomes less consistent and therefore less hormones are produced. This starts to trigger the first stage of menopause which is early peri-menopause.
Stage 1: Early Peri-Menopause
Early peri-menopause on average occurs between 40-45 years old and the main flag that alerts us to diagnosis is changes in bleeding patterns. Women may experience changes in their cycle length by an average of 7 days. For example, a regular 28 day cycle may now become a 21 day or 35 day cycle. Due to these hormonal fluctuations, the brain becomes stressed out causing changes in mood and sleep patterns. Many women will also experience worsening PMS during this time due to the major stress that's caused by hormonal fluctuations.
Stage 2: Late Peri-Menopause
Late peri-menopause occurs on average between the ages of 45-51 years old. The main sign that a woman has entered into this stage is that she starts to notice lengthening between periods. This may mean that she goes 3 or 4 months without having a period. In this stage, ovulation becomes much less consistent. As a result, the hormone levels start to drop significantly. This can bring on the classic symptoms that most women attribute to menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
Stage 3: Early Post-Menopause
Post-menopause occurs there is no period for 12 months. On average this occurs between 51-52 years old. At this point, the ovarian reserve has finished and so has the production of estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries. The adrenal glands still produce a small amount of hormones but usually not enough to keep away symptoms. Due to the very low amount of hormones women often experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, brain fog, urinary issues, low libido, weight gain, and hair loss. This is also the stage where long term complications from menopause start to arise including increase risk in cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, dementia, and arthritis.
The good news is that there are many excellent treatments to help you conquer every stage of menopause. Simple changes in diet and lifestyle, as well as herbs, vitamins, supplements, hormone therapy, and IV therapy can really help you move into the next stage of your life with confidence.
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