Am I in Menopause?
Transitions in life are not always black and white. While sometimes our body will send a clear and obvious signal that something has changed, other times it presents us with shades of gray that can leave us wondering what exactly is going on. Menopause can be just like that – sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes…well…sometimes it’s not!
Technically, menopause occurs when a woman has depleted all her eggs from her ovaries.
Diagnostically, it is defined by going 12 months without a menstrual cycle. Although menopause can happen during a relatively broad age range, the average age in the United States is 51.
Menopause can occur earlier; for example, in cases of premature ovarian failure, hysterectomy, and in some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
For some women, menopause is like flipping a switch. One month a woman has a period and the next month she doesn’t and never does again.
Another woman can spend years with her cycles changing – lengthening, shortening, skipping here and there – before her ovaries finally call it quits. In both of these cases, other symptoms also commonly accompany the transition into menopause, including:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood changes
- Disturbed sleep
- Loss of breast volume
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain
Less commonly, a woman can experience:
- Dry mouth and skin
- Coldness/cold sweats
- Breast pain
- Painful intercourse
- Poor concentration
- Decrease in bladder control
- Increased risk for urinary tract infections
Again, because some of these symptoms can be caused by conditions that are not related to menopause, if a woman has not had a complete absence of periods, then it can be hard to determine if these symptoms are tied to menopause or not. This is where testing can be very helpful.
Tests that look at the levels of key hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can help determine if menopause has or has not occurred and what is likely causing symptoms.
It can also be helpful to test thyroid hormone levels because many of the symptoms of thyroid changes are similar to menopause, they have a similar age of onset, and they are very common in women (affecting around 10% of adult women).1