What You Need to Know About Menopause Before It Starts (And Why You Should Know It Now)
You likely haven’t given it much thought before now. Your mom has mentioned it once or twice in passing and you’re sure she’s talked to your aunts or her friends, but you weren’t really paying attention.
You’re way too young to worry about it, after all.
Or are you?
The early stages of menopause can begin as soon as your mid-30s! The usual age range is 44-58 with an average age of 51.
Given that the menopause journey is unique for each woman, it’s never too early to arm yourself with the knowledge that you need to be informed about what is coming.
Knowing what to expect will let you know how to counteract it when possible and how to cope with symptoms you can’t with menopause solutions.
What Is Menopause?
When we hear the term menopause we instantly think of hot flashes and aging bodies. The thought of “oh I don’t need to worry about that yet — menopause is for older women,” might have crossed your mind once or twice.
Menopause is when you are nearing the end of your reproductive years. This happens at different times for different women. Hence the big age range of 44-58.
Menopause is the term we use to describe the changes our body goes through. It makes it sound like it’s a one-time thing, but it is actually broken down into 3 categories — menopause is only a small part of the transformation.
First up is perimenopause. This usually starts in your 40s but it can start as early as your mid-30s. So that thought of menopause being for older women can really pull the rug out from under you if you aren’t prepared!
This stage is also known as the menopausal transition.
It happens at different ages and lasts for varying amounts of time. (Super specific, right?) Our bodies handle this time just as differently as it handles our cycles. And just like your period, your menopause journey will be just as unique.
This stage can last anywhere between 8-10 years before actual menopause sets in. Your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen as time goes on. The decline accelerates in the last two years of perimenopause until your ovaries stop releasing eggs altogether.
You’ll still have the occasional menstrual cycle, but it will be irregular.
And you can still get pregnant.
Menopause is officially diagnosed after 12 consecutive months of no menstruation.
Even though this is the phase most people are familiar with, it’s also the shortest.
Your body has stopped releasing eggs and your ovaries aren’t producing much estrogen anymore.
After menopause has been diagnosed, you move right into —
This stage is after your 12 consecutive months of no period.
You’ll be here the rest of your life, so settle in.
Your menopausal symptoms may ease up in this phase. Or they may go on for another decade or more.
But this is no reason to panic. You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you and many things to look forward to. This is an exciting time in your life.
Don’t let post-menopause play a larger role than it needs to.
What Is Coming My Way
Your journey could start anywhere from 8-12 years before you hit the “menopause” stage of not having a period for a whole year.
Then you transition into post-menopause.
When the symptoms first start, they’ll be subtle. You may not even recognize them as your body beginning to turn the page on the next chapter of your life. It’s easy to write these symptoms off as other factors that have messed with your period before such as stress or imbalanced hormones.
These small changes will tend to be around the time of your period.
There are many symptoms of menopause that you should be on the lookout for.
20 some of them in fact.
Yep. 20. You may be experiencing one, or more, and wondering if they are connected or if you are suddenly going crazy. You aren’t and you are not alone.
Here’s a quick list.
- Irregular periods — this is one of the earliest signs of perimenopause. Irregular periods could be anything from spotting between periods, abnormally heavy or light bleeding, dark blood, or shortened cycles.
- Changes in mood — menopausal women are at a higher risk of depression during this stage of life than any other because of their fluctuating hormones. You could be irritable, sad, unmotivated, anxious, aggressive, exhausted, panicky, and tense. Pretty much any emotion under the negative rainbow.
- Hot flashes — one of the most common symptoms of perimenopause. Not only will your skin feel like it’s burning, but you also experience intense face flushing and sweating.
- Changes in sexual drive — your libido is formed by hormones, learned behavior, brain function, and motivation. Some women have an increased sex drive while others’ plummets.
- Vaginal dryness — when estrogen decreases your vaginal lining becomes thinner, drier, and less elastic.
- Incontinence - accidentally leaking urine. This could happen when you sneeze, cough, laugh, jump, or run. If you’ve had a child, this is similar to the window after giving birth. Kegels may be a good thing for you to start prepping with.
- Night sweats - extremely similar to hot flashes but worse because they disrupt your sleep. The lack of sleep can cause impaired judgment, lack of focus, moodiness, and being prone to accidents.
- Weight gain — this is commonly referred to as the middle-age spread. Weight gain is extremely common during perimenopause. Especially around the midsection.
- Breast changes — when your hormones change, so can your breast. This happens during puberty and your period so it isn’t surprising that menopause would cause the breast to feel tender and achy. They can even change in size and/or shape.
- Digestive health issues — You may have gas, bloating, nausea, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, belching and constipation. This is because hormones play a big part in digestion. When those are out of whack so is your digestive system.
- Oral health issues — When they say everything dries out during menopause, they weren’t kidding! Yes, everything drying out includes even your saliva. A dry mouth can put you at a risk for oral health issues.
- Headaches/migraines — For those who usually have hormone induced headaches and migraines, you may see a bit of a break. On the other hand, if you haven’t had issues with migraines/headaches before, you may be having them for the first time because of the hormonal changes going on in your body.
- Fatigue — Severe exhaustion is one of the first symptoms that women start to notice when approaching menopause. Other symptoms also impact this one because they can affect your sleep. That paired with the fluctuating testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, and adrenal (the hormones supporting energy) are all over the board making you tired.
- Lack of focus and memory lapse — Losing your train of thought or forgetting things is yet another symptom. Think of pregnancy brain cranked up to another level. The brain fog, forgetfulness, and lack of focus are common symptoms.
- New or increased allergies — New or worsening food sensitivities may leave some of your favorite foods off the menu. You may also experience coughing, itchy eyes, and hives during menopause.
- Tingling limbs and restless leg syndrome — Sleep is hard enough to come by and issues with your limbs going numb certainly doesn’t help. This happens when you pinch a nerve and usually goes away when the compression is relieved.
- Tight muscles and joint pain — As we age our bodies gain normal wear and tear. Some days we notice it more than others. (Like that last night out with the girls taking us longer to recover from then normal.) You’ll likely feel stiffness, pains and aches that come as a result of getting older.
- Irregular heartbeat — No, your heart skipping a beat doesn’t have to do with seeing your partner enter a room. It’s actually a normal symptom of menopause. And even though it can last from a few seconds up to a few minutes — it’s not as dangerous as it feels.
- Dizziness — If the room is spinning and you haven’t had enough alcohol to justify it, you may be experiencing yet another lovely menopause symptom. Dizziness can make you feel like you’re off balance or going to faint.
- Osteoporosis — A loss of estrogen directly relates to a loss in bone density. This means that your bones are weakened and more prone to fractures. Your doctor may even diagnose you with osteopenia. Knowing that, you can prevent falling into osteoporosis by taking action.
As if this list wasn’t enough, there are other symptoms that are sometimes linked to menopause and its stages. Though these are the most common. Always reach out to your doctor with any questions or concerns as they will be able to help provide you with menopause solutions that are right for you.
For a more in-depth guide on why these symptoms happen and what you can do — read here.
Why Is It Earlier for Me?
There is no good way to predict when you will start menopause.
One of the most relevant factors may be the age your mother was when she began experiencing menopausal symptoms. There is a genetic link but that doesn’t mean your journey will be the same.
Your best bet would be to take the age of not only your mom, but also your aunts, and sisters to see if they all started around the same age. This could give you a closer prediction on when your own journey may start.
Menopause is a normal stage of life for every woman. But there are a few factors that could kick the process into gear faster than it normally would.
You may be experiencing menopause early if you have a history with any of the following:
- Cancer treatment
- Family history
How Do I Best Manage It?
Being aware is the first step to menopausal wellness.
Know that this is a natural progression of your life and that there are things you can do to help all these crazy symptoms. Take comfort in the fact that every woman goes through this.
You aren’t alone and this is a natural part of getting older.
You can also manage your symptoms more easily by doing the following.
Being active is one of the best ways to manage your menopause symptoms.
Daily exercises such as yoga, walking, biking, and even strength training are great to keep your body in the best shape it can be to handle your symptoms.
Of course, along with daily exercise, eating healthy is another major factor.
Try to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and healthy protein. These good foods mean you shouldn’t weigh them down by eating heavily processed food and excessive drinking.
Also, try to avoid or quit smoking altogether.
Daily self-care will help you relax.
You can do this with meditation and perhaps yoga too. Killing two birds with one stone will help you manage your limited time to get things done in a day.
Not all vitamins are created equal but there are some out there that can help.
One of the most important vitamins for you at this time is Vitamin D. It supports you with:
- Osteoporosis support - vitamin D helps support healthy bones. Pair with calcium for extra support.
- Cancer prevention - vitamin D has been shown to prevent more than 30 types of cancer! Of course, this is no substitute for regular screening.
- Healthy mood - during this time where your mood is fluctuating, you need all the help you can get! Vitamin D has been shown to support a better mood when there is a lack of daily sunlight. (I’m looking at you, winter months.)
- Heart health — while there hasn’t been a clear connection, studies have shown that vitamin D may support a healthy heart. Talk to your doctor about ways to support heart health and see if vitamin D fits into your plan if you are at heart disease risk.
Sunlight is always your best source of vitamin D but be mindful. Wear sunscreen and talk to your health care provider to see if adding vitamin D to your diet may be right for you. They’ll know what the right dose is for you.
Read more about vitamin D here.
Keep an eye out for supplements that can help with the specific areas that you need:
- Sleep support — your sleep patterns get messed up when progesterone starts to slow. Look for natural ingredients that support restful sleep.
- Hair, skin, and nails support — as estrogen goes down, so does the health of your hair, skin, and nails. Estrogen supports the production of collagen which keeps these features healthy.
- Menopausal support — there are a lot of menopausal supplements out there, keep an eye out for ones with black cohosh, chaste berry, red clover, passionflower, soy lignans, wild yam, soy isoflavones, poron and protykin.
Make sure to speak with your health care provider if you’re thinking of implementing a supplement and vitamin routine. Include any medications you are taking or if you have any questions or concerns.
Read more about vitamins here.
What Solutions Exist?
There’s no tried-and-true way that gets rid of menopause altogether. This is just a stage of life that every woman has to pass through.
That said there are a few ways that can improve your experience and overall menopausal wellness.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
Hormone replacement therapy is exactly what it sounds like.
You take a medication that helps to replace the estrogen that your body stops making during menopause.
There are two basic types of hormone therapy:
- Systemic hormone therapy
- Low-dose vaginal products
Hormone replacement therapy does come with some risks. These should be weighed against the benefits and be discussed with your doctor. They will help figure out what is right for you.
ALTERNATIVES TO HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
Hormone replacement therapy may not be for you. And that’s okay. You have other options you can look into first.
A few are:
- Avoid hot environments
- Keep your bedroom as cool as possible
- Try yoga or acupuncture
If you’re interested in more natural ways to alleviate the challenges of menopause — read here.
RED LIGHT THERAPY
If you haven’t heard of Red Light Therapy, I’ll sum it up.
Basically, it concentrates the wavelengths of natural light to your skin. It’s a safe technology that supports the production of collagen, elastin, and fibroblasts.
These are things that start to go down as your estrogen levels do.
Joylux also offers menopause technology, including a red light device that can be used in the comfort of your own home.
Read more about Red Light Therapy and its benefits here.
Remember that you are not alone!
Menopause can feel like we need to cope with it by ourselves, but we don’t. Our paths may be different, but we’re all in this together!
If you don’t have any friends going through menopause when you are, there are other options. Look online for support groups that can help you maintain menopausal wellness.
Menopause can seem so far off in the distance.
But like most things in life, blink and it’ll be here before you know it!
Being aware of what’s coming will help you prepare. Doing so now can help you survive your symptoms and know what kind of menopause solutions are available for you.
Curious if you’re experiencing menopause now? Take our menopause quiz and find out!