As a woman ages, her body will go through changes. Most women go through menopause after age 45, but some will experience it early. Symptoms associated with menopause can also occur in the period before the actual onset, known as perimenopause. Whether you have started the transition to menopause or not, knowing that it is inevitable may have you wondering how it is going to affect your life and your body.
Menopause will affect each person a bit differently. However, there are some common changes most women will experience during the transition. Here are nine of the biggest changes your body may go through during perimenopause and menopause.
1. Absence of Periods
By definition, menopause is the transition a woman’s body undergoes after she stops ovulating. The menstrual cycle will first become irregular during perimenopause and then stop altogether. Therefore, lack of menstruation is the main symptom that indicates menopausal transition is underway.
2. Changes in Weight
Many women experience weight gain during perimenopause and menopause. Many have pointed to menopause and hormone treatment directly as the cause for weight gain, but there isn’t proof that this occurs independently of age. In fact, women who use hormone therapy after menopause gain less weight than women who do not. Because metabolism slows with age, and menopause usually occurs in women past middle age, it might be somewhat coincidental. Also, women tend to become less active as they age, which can contribute to weight gain as well.
Along with putting on physical pounds, the way the body distributes fat may change as well. Unlike with general weight gain, studies have shown that perimenopause, regardless of age, is associated with an increase of abdominal fat and decreased lean body mass. This can transform the body into more of an “apple” shape where weight is carried around the waist and belly. While many experience this change, more study on changing body composition is needed to reveal why it happens.
3. Trouble Sleeping and Insomnia
The hormonal changes your body is going through can disrupt sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall asleep. During menopause, you lose estrogen, which helps regulate sleep patterns. The part of the brain that regulates reproductive hormones is also responsible for wake-sleep hormones like melatonin and cortisol. If you experience difficulty falling asleep, you may find it hard to make it through the day, especially if the problem persists over time.
Another reason you might lose sleep during menopause is due to night sweats and frequent urination, detailed below. Anything that keeps you from falling asleep or staying asleep long enough to go through a healthy sleep cycle can lead to insomnia. And as we all know, sleep is essential to physical, mental and emotional health.
4. Hot Flashes
A hot flash is a sudden surge in your body temperature or an increased feeling of heat that may vary in intensity and duration. Hot flashes are sometimes referred to as “hot flushes” due to the flushed appearance that accompanies the episode. Hot flashes mostly affect the upper body and face. They are known to occur with night sweats but can happen independently at any time of day.
5. Night Sweats
As the name describes, night sweats are periods of excessive perspiration at night. These episodes can coincide with hot flashes and can disrupt sleep because many women wake up during a night sweat, often covered in sweat. Night sweats are a common cause of insomnia and sleep loss during menopause.
6. Mood Fluctuation
Your brain is one of the most important parts of your body, so anything that affects your mind, in essence, affects your body as well. Menopausal women can be stereotyped as “moody” which usually refers to irritability or even irrationality. However, the changing levels of hormones can lead to many moods that fluctuate more than usual. One of these many moods is in fact irritability, but depression and happiness are also in the rotation.
7. Frequent Urination
Dropping estrogen levels can lead to frequent urination because the lack of estrogen weakens the elasticity of the urethra and vagina and thin their linings. Urgency may occur even when the bladder is not full.
8. Osteoporosis and Bone Fractures
Bone density can decrease during menopause, which increases the risk of bone fractures. Again, the decrease in estrogen is to blame here. As you may have gathered already, estrogen is used for more than reproductive functions like ovulation. Estrogen also protects bones and helps with building new bone, so during menopause, you are at risk of developing osteoporosis and losing bone density and strength.
9. Sexual Health
Lower levels of reproductive hormones can have an effect on your sexual health and function. The drop in estrogen levels can lead to a lowered sex drive or libido, vaginal dryness, and/or painful intercourse.
To cope with these menopausal effects on your body, you can depend on Dr. Karen Clark and the team at Chapel Hill Gynecology to find a plan that works for you. Dr. Clark’s expertise in hormone management means you can trust her to find the best treatment for your individual needs, including hormone replacement therapies. Call 919-960-2720 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.