Is it Menopause or a Medical Problem?

Is it Menopause or a Medical Problem?

By Cheryl Smitherman DNP, CNM
Women’s Wellness at Flower Mound

Beginning in a woman’s 40’s, the ovaries gradually begin to produce less estrogen which causes changes in the menstrual cycle due to changes in ovulation. These changes include longer or heavier cycles, shorter or lighter cycles, an increase or decrease in the length of time between cycles or skipping cycles altogether. This is phase is called perimenopause and may last for 8-10 years with the largest drop in estrogen levels during the last 1-2 years.

It is during this time that women may begin to experience signs and symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido, urinary urgency, difficulty sleeping, irritability, mood swings, depression, dry skin/eyes/mouth, breast tenderness, and worsening premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some women may also experience headaches, joint and muscle pain, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, a racing heart, and hair thinning or loss. Although menstrual cycles are irregular during this time, pregnancy can still occur.

Not all women experience all of these symptoms, and these symptoms could be related to other medical conditions. It is important to see a provider to determine if the symptoms are related to perimenopause or another medical condition. Symptoms that should be reported include heavy vaginal bleeding, prolonged bleeding, bleeding that occurs more often than every three weeks, bleeding that occurs after sex, or spotting/bleeding between cycles. These can be caused by naturally occurring hormonal imbalance or by hormonal treatment, pregnancy, uterine fibroids, clotting disorders, cancer or several other
medical conditions.

Menopause begins when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped producing estrogen and ovulation ceases. The average age of menopause is 51, but is considered normal between the ages of 45 and 55. Post-menopause is the years after menopause in which symptoms can lessen, but can also can increase the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Hormone replacement therapy and lifestyle changes can reduce the risks of these conditions, and should be discussed with your provider. Any bleeding which occurs after menopause is always considered abnormal and should be investigated for hormonal imbalance, uterine fibroids, cancer or other abnormal conditions. If you notice any of these symptoms please call your medical provider for an appointment immediately.

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