It’s Menopause Awareness Month—Here’s What You Didn’t Know About “The Change.”

SimpleHealth
SimpleHealth
Published: October 22, 2021Updated: November 2, 2021

When we're talking about menstruation, menarche (a.k.a. the first time you start having a period) gets all the attention. Older siblings, parents, relatives, and brave health teachers are all on hand to teach people what it's like to have a period, what the common side effects are, and how, exactly, a tampon gets in there.

But while there's a lot of information out there about the start of the menstrual cycle, there's not really as much public conversation about the eventual end of your cycle—that is, menopause. In fact, like many other women's health issues, menopause is rarely talked about publicly and is often considered a taboo topic.

So, let’s talk about it right now. In honor of October being Menopause Awareness Month, here’s what to know about menopause (even if you’re not going to experience it for a few years). We’ll also talk about common signs of menopause, what to expect from perimenopause, and how birth control might help treat perimenopause symptoms.

What is menopause? 

Let’s back up a bit to something a little more familiar: menarche, which is the first time a person experiences a period. This typically starts around age 12.5 and continues until around age 50 (although lifestyle and genetic factors may alter this timeframe slightly).

Eventually, your body enters the perimenopause stage, which is the body’s transition period before menopause (when your period ends). Perimenopause is also known as the menopausal transition, and during this time, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone varies a ton. That variance in hormone production can lead to all the hallmark symptoms you might have heard about—like hot flashes, trouble sleeping, painful sex, and depression or irritability. Menstruators might also experience irregular periods.

After the transitional time of perimenopause (which typically lasts around seven years—yup, you read that right), you’re considered to be in menopause when it’s been 12 months since your last period. Menopause can also be triggered earlier by surgical removal of the ovaries.

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What are the symptoms of menopause?

When going through menopause, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone can swing wildly. This hormonal rollercoaster ride is primarily responsible for all the usual symptoms of menopause. For example:

Irregular periods: Spotty, irregular periods are often one of the first noticeable symptoms of menopause. Your period might be heavier or it might last longer. Your periods might come closer together or you might experience spotting in between periods.

Hot flashes: You know that feeling when you’re incredibly embarrassed, and you can feel a flush rising through your body? That’s similar to what a hot flash feels like. A sudden heat takes over your body, and you might experience red blotches on your chest, arms, and neck. Hot flashes can last from 30 seconds up to ten minutes, and they can happen several times a day or just a couple times a week. 

Sex: During menopause, your vagina might get drier, which can make sex uncomfortable. Many people also experience a change in sexual desire, whether that means being less interested in sex or more ready to go than ever (and heads up: even if your period has been irregular, it’s still possible to get pregnant during perimenopause—so keep taking your birth control if you don’t want to get pregnant). 

Bladder control: Yup, we’re saying that you might pee a little when you laugh. This loss of bladder control is called incontinence, and it means people going through menopause might experience a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. Or, they might leak a little while exercising, sneezing, or laughing.

Sleep: Snoozing isn’t always easy. During perimenopause, you might have trouble falling or staying asleep. You also might experience night sweats, which is when a hot flash strikes at night.

Mood changes: Last but not least, the dreaded mood changes of menopause. People going through menopause often report feeling irritable, depressed, or stressed. This could be because of the hormonal changes, but it could also just be because the symptoms of menopause are really annoying to deal with (hot flashes would make anyone snappy, right?).

Can you treat the symptoms of perimenopause?

We regret to report that there’s no magic wand that erases all the symptoms of perimenopause. But, there are a few things you can do to relieve its symptoms. 

One of the easiest ways to help control your perimenopause symptoms can be by taking hormonal birth control, like the pill. Your hormones are all over the place during perimenopause, so taking hormonal birth control can help keep your hormone levels stable and help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Taking combined oral contraceptives (containing both estrogen and progestin) can help alleviate perimenopausal symptoms like menstrual irregularity, heavy menstrual bleeding, and vasomotor symptoms (aka hot flashes and night sweats).   

Of course, talk to your doctor first about taking hormonal birth control during perimenopause, especially if you have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or blood clots. 

Beyond combined oral contraceptives, other recommended ways to reduce symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • Carrying a portable fan in case a hot flash strikes
  • Using over-the-counter vaginal lubricants and moisturizers to make sex more enjoyable
  • Learning helpful stress relief practices to call on in times of irritability or depression, like meditation or exercise

Do you have questions about menopause and how you can learn more before “the change” is upon you? Reach out to us for a consultation with one of our doctors to get the download on menopause and how birth control might help control your symptoms. 

Citations:

Emmanuel M, Bokor BR. Tanner Stages. [Updated 2020 Dec 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470280/

National Institute on Aging. 2017. What Is Menopause?. [online] Available at: <https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause> [Accessed 10 September 2021].

 https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause

National Institute on Aging. 2017. What Is Menopause?. [online] Available at: <https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause> [Accessed 10 September 2021].

2. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Menopause?. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-and-symptoms-menopause. Published 2017. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Cho MK. Use of Combined Oral Contraceptives in Perimenopausal Women. Chonnam Med J. 2018;54(3):153-158. doi:10.4068/cmj.2018.54.3.153

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