What Is Menopause?
Rochelle Weitzner | April 15, 2020
Think back to your pre-teen years. You probably remember getting “The Talk,” to prepare you for puberty and getting your first period.
It was useful info, sure. But the part everyone left out was what happens when your period stops. As in, menopause.
Menopause. Just hearing that word is enough to strike fear in some women.
Why? Because of all the questions surrounding this normal, natural phase in every woman's life.
Here are just a few we hear every day at Pause Well-Aging:
- What is menopause?
- When does menopause happen?
- How long does menopause last?
- What can I expect during menopause?
- How should I prepare for menopause? Can I prepare for it?
Let's break it down and arm you with the intel you need to thrive - yes, thrive - during menopause.
What Is Menopause? The Precise Definition
Menopause is defined as 12 months with no period. And while there are actual tests to determine this (specifically, evaluating the follicle stimulating hormone levels as well as lower estrogen levels), not having a period for an entire year is typically all the confirmation a woman needs to know for sure she's reached full-on menopause.
Menopause is natural, normal and marks the end of our reproductive period. More broadly, the term "menopause" is often applied to changes we go through right before, during and after our periods stop. At Pause, we take our cues from the medical community and define these phases as Perimenopause, Menopause and Post-Menopause. Much more on those later.
Separate from perimenopause, premature menopause is defined as reaching menopause - 12 months with no period - before the age of 40. This can occur naturally but also immediately after any procedure that removes the ovaries, in which case it is referred to as surgical menopause.
While menopause happens over the span of several years, surgical menopause is immediate. The abrupt disruption of hormones can make typical menopause symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, brain fog and memory loss more severe. Read more about surgical menopause here.
When Does Menopause Start And What Causes It?
The beginning of menopause, perimenopause, typically starts around age 45 and lasts for several years. In the United States, the average age of menopause is 51.
You are born with a finite amount of eggs, which are stored in your ovaries. Once a month, during ovulation, an egg is released. Perimenopause occurs when ovulation slows, then stops, and along with it, your period.
What Are The Three Stages Of Menopause?
1. Phase One, Perimenopause: Perimenopause lasts on average 7 - 10 years before full-on menopause. As your ovaries gradually start making less estrogen, you will experience irregular periods. This can include changes in frequency, duration, flow and consistency. This is when symptoms tend to be the most intense, due to the extreme fluctuation in estrogen. While this is different for everyone, hot flashes and brain fog are among the most common.
At this point, it’s important to know you’re not going crazy. We repeat: YOU ARE NOT GOING CRAZY. These symptoms are very real and not in your head. Make sure you have a doctor who understands what you’re experiencing and can help manage this transition.
2. Phase Two, Menopause: At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen. Once you've gone 12 full months without a period, the very next day you're officially in menopause. It lasts just one day, as every day after is called post-menopause.
3. Phase Three, Post-Menopause: Post-menopause begins the days following menopause, 12 months and one day since your last period. Basically, it lasts for the rest of your life. In other words, you may be done with your period, but you’re never actually “done” with menopause. For most women, thanks to stabilizing hormone levels, symptoms experienced during perimenopause tend to subside. However, it’s still important to make long-term changes to your lifestyle because living with less estrogen means a higher risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and changes to your vagina and bladder. Make it a priority to work with your doctor to come up with a plan to address these risks.
Experiences Of Perimenopause (& Beyond): Why It Can Be So Tough
During perimenopause, your estrogen levels fluctuate wildly, causing symptoms to be intense. And while this stage can last up to a decade, it's important to remember you are not in this alone and you don't have to just "deal" with the symptoms. From Pause Well-Aging Hot Flash Cooling Mist to hormone therapy, there are tools to support you. Talk to your doctor, friends, family - you don't need to figure this out by yourself!
Here's what you might experience during perimenopause and beyond:
- Lower estrogen levels: This is a gradual process, but the chief catalyst of menopause. Your ovaries gradually start making less estrogen.
- Period irregularity: The frequency, duration, flow and consistency may vary.
- "Personal thermostat" shifts: You may experience hot flashes and night sweats, interspersed with a plummet in body temperature. While hot flashes get all the buzz, cold flashes exist too!
- Sleep disruption and fatigue: All those "personal thermostat" issues we just discussed? Those are *not* helping you get a sound night's sleep. Not sleeping can also have an impact on your mood and memory.
- Vaginal dryness and low sex drive: Again, lowered estrogen levels can result in both lack of lubrication in vaginal walls, as well as reduced libido.
- Mood and memory changes: You may feel moody, irritable, anxious or depressed, and may also experience brain fog, poor concentration and memory issues. A lowered level of estradiol, which is a form of estrogen, is at the root of these changes.
- Weight gain and bloating: Age, genetics and lifestyle all play a role in weight changes. A decrease in muscle mass, common with age, slows metabolism, while hormonal changes also may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen.
- Facial hair increases, scalp hair decreases: Hormonal changes also affect hair. With less estrogen to oppose testosterone, women are more likely to get hair in areas men typically have it. At the same time, estrogen has been "protecting" hair on our scalps, so women are more likely to see thinning hair. After age 50, approximately the same number of women and men experience thinning hair.
- Skin changes: Your skin may start changing due to reduced estrogen and collagen. Acne, excessive dryness, fine lines, thinner skin, saggy skin, loss of tone and changed texture are all completely normal. More on this below.
- Other "fun" stuff: Heart palpitations, incontinence, achy joints and muscles, sore breasts, headaches, digestive issues, osteoporosis, weakened fingernails, a change in body odor and worsening of allergies can all happen throughout the menopause process, too.
And About Those Hot Flashes...
Hot flashes are the most common symptom of hormonal changes during menopause. While they can't be prevented, our Hot Flash Cooling Mist provides instant relief from the discomfort of hot flashes by creating the sensation of lowering your body's surface temperature, cooling and calming the skin, reducing redness and evaporating sweat. Formulated with our proprietary Pause Complex, this silky, instantly absorbing cream helps firm, lift, brighten and even-out skin tone, and diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. And not to worry: it won't disrupt makeup or stain clothes.
How Your Skin Changes With Menopause
Production of collagen, the structural support net in our skin, slows as we age. Our deeply hydrating day-and-night Collagen Boosting Moisturizer helps to spark collagen production, with a focus on increasing skin density and improving elasticity during the three stages of menopause. Powered by our proprietary Pause Complex, this silky, instantly absorbed cream helps firm, lift, brighten and even out skin tone, and diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Because we believe in addressing skin and tissue health and quality from the inside out as well as from the outside in, we developed our patented Fascia Stimulating Tool, an FDA-cleared Class 1 medical device made of medical grade stainless steel. Unlike other tools on the market, ours was created by a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a beveled edge that is engineered to stimulate ﬁbroblasts—collagen-producing cells within the fascia connective tissue.
Research suggests that external skin stimulation can reach beyond the surface to the subdermal level. Gentle stroking with Fascia Stimulating Tool may improve blood ﬂow, support cell turnover, remove waste, boost collagen production, and optimize overall skin nutrition—which can help minimize sagging and enhance volume and elasticity. Be sure to take a look at our animated science video to better understand fibroblasts and why you should care about them.
Menopausal skin fluctuations eventually calm down, but a great skincare routine will help preserve tone, texture, brightness, and overall skin and tissue health. At Pause, we are continually working on new product development to ensure we have the tools you need for a great overall skincare routine.
Strength In Numbers: Why A Menopause Community Is Key
It’s a lot to take in, but here’s the good news: You’re on this site, and we’re talking about it together. For more on menopause, head to our Community section to find real-life menopause stories, and while you’re there, share yours, too. Our blog, Connect the Dots, will keep you updated with menopause-focused wellness and beauty ideas. And for your hot flashes and your skin, well, we most definitely have that covered.
Rochelle Weitzner is founder and CEO at The Pause Group.