Simply put, menopause is a decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones in a woman's body that affect everything from the hair and skin to the bones, muscles, and brain. Menopause ultimately affects the reproduction system, during the phase in an aging woman's life when her ovaries stop releasing eggs for fertilization.
A woman typically begins to experience symptoms of approaching menopause when she reaches her mid-40s, although they can occur as early as her 30s. The time period up until when menopause occurs is known as perimenopause, a transition that may take four to ten years as estrogen and progesterone levels continue to decrease.
Symptoms of perimenopause can vary greatly, due to the prevalence of these hormones throughout the body and the changes that take place when their levels begin to decrease. Here are five symptoms that often affect women who are going through this significant change:
- Irregular Periods
A primary sign of perimenopause is the change in a woman's menstrual cycle and the onset of irregular periods. A woman who may have had regular periods throughout her reproductive years can find herself experiencing periods that now come earlier or later than her typical cycle, lighter or heavier bleeding, or missed periods altogether. A woman is considered to have reached menopause when she has experienced a year without having a period.
- Hair Loss
The decrease in estrogen can cause a woman to experience hair loss, both on the head and in other places on the body, such as the pubic area. As a woman progresses through perimenopause, hair can also become dry and brittle.
- Memory Loss
While occasional lapses of memory affect most of us from time to time, menopause can often cause a woman to suffer not only from a loss of memory, but an inability to concentrate.
- Hot Flashes
Hot flashes, one of the more common complaints among women experiencing menopause, are short periods of heat radiating throughout the body. They can cause excessive sweating or redness in the face or neck. Many women complain that some hot flashes are so intense that they interfere with restful sleep.
Sleep can be hard to come by for many women experiencing menopause. A woman who may have been used to getting the typical seven to eight hours of sleep each night may suddenly begin to suffer from bouts of sleeplessness, have difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up earlier than expected.