Menopause is a personal milestone for women. While it is a natural transition, it also comes with potentially confusing symptoms. In fact, 3 in 4 people experiencing menopause say the symptoms interfere with their daily life. Symptoms commonly associated with menopause overlap with symptoms of other conditions, so it can be a challenge to figure out what’s really going on.
Menopause is complex and unique to each individual—people experiencing menopause can have a variety of symptoms like trouble sleeping, hot flashes and difficulties concentrating. You may wonder if things like stress, work or family responsibilities are causing your symptoms, but changes in hormone levels could be what’s to blame.
A better understanding of the three stages of menopause, testing options and when to talk to a provider can provide clarity during this natural phase of life.
Understanding the three stages of menopause
Menopause is a gradual journey that encompasses three transitional stages—perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. During the process, your body’s hormone levels will begin to change, and this is the main force behind physical and emotional symptoms.
The menopause transition typically begins between ages 45 and 55. Twelve consecutive months without menstruation is the hallmark of menopause, but symptoms can begin prior and continue after that point in time. Menopause affects each person differently, including specific symptoms and when they begin.
Which sometimes last 4-8 years—is the timeframe leading up to menopause. During this time your hormone levels start to fluctuate. This can drive symptoms such as:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Changes in libido
Marks the point in time when you have gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. Your ovaries become less capable of generating estrogen and eventually cease producing the key hormone entirely. Due to the fluctuating levels of hormones, confusing and challenging symptoms may develop or worsen during this time.
Is the stage following menopause, during which your hormone levels begin to stabilize, and symptoms become milder or go away altogether.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during menopause continues to be important because decreased estrogen levels can put you at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and bone fractures. Eating a healthy diet, being physically active and abstaining from smoking altogether help keep your body running efficiently and effectively throughout menopause. Talk to your healthcare provider to discuss potential screening and/or preventive measures you can take to protect your health.
Preparing to discuss menopause with your health care provider
Being proactive about your menopause journey should involve discussions with your healthcare provider. It’s important to find a provider that you trust so that you feel comfortable discussing this personal milestone. If you’re not sure where to start, there is a database of menopause-trained practitioners that is free to access: The North American Menopause Association can help pair you with a provider that meets your needs.
Once you find a provider you like, it’s important to be prepared. Make a list of your specific symptoms and how they impact your daily life. Two other proactive steps you can take before you speak with your provider involve testing for key hormone levels and tracking your symptoms:
1) You or your provider can use lab tests that measure hormone levels in your blood to help assess menopausal symptoms and learn more about your menopause transition. The hormones measured are
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Estradiol (E2)
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
Our Menopause Test provides a snapshot of your hormone levels at the time of testing. Repeatedly high FSH levels over time is considered a hallmark laboratory marker of menopause. Typically, FSH levels increase and estradiol levels decrease as menopause occurs. A consistently elevated level of FSH, lack of a menstrual period for 12 months, along with menopause symptoms, indicates you are likely in post-menopause.
During this transition, key hormones will fluctuate and may cause a variety of challenging symptoms. Estradiol and progesterone levels decline with age, especially during menopause. Follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone levels rise with age, especially during menopause.