menopauseMenopause effects each woman differently. Perhaps your best friend is struggling to sleep. You’re drenched in sweat from each hot flash. And your sister—lucky her—is enjoying a new sense of energy and creativity.

What is Menopause?

Just as puberty is marked at the start of your first period, menopause is the milestone of your last period. The time frame is actually measured as twelve months from your last period, and the “change of life” usually has three parts: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

Changes usually start with perimenopause. You might notice changes in your body several years before you have your last menstrual period. You also might experience changes to your normal period cycle, such as longer or shorter periods, and hot flashes, a sudden sensation of heat. If you experience them at night, they are called night sweats. Your vagina might get drier, which could make sex painful, and some women experience incontinence.

Menopause is next, and after a full year without a period, you can say you have been “through menopause.” You might find yourself feeling stressed and irritable around menopause. Your body can change. Experts don’t know why, but you may gain weight, lose muscle, experience memory problems, and have stiff joints and muscles.

Postmenopause follows and lasts the rest of your life. After menopause, you may find your feelings about sex change. You could be less interested, or you may feel sexier and an increased libido, possibly because there’s no chance of pregnancy. Also after menopause, you may have difficulty sleeping or find you need less sleep.

Many women start menopause at age 51, although the age you experience menopause is strongly correlated to the age your mother experienced it. But, some women begin menopause in their forties, and some have their last period in their fifties. Some types of operations can lead to early menopause, such as a hysterectomy, which removes the uterus, or oophorectomy, which removes both ovaries. In these situations, menopause symptoms can start right away, no matter the age. Smoking can also lead to early menopause.

After menopause, maintaining wellness might involve some lifestyle changes. If you smoke, stop. Eat a diet low in fat, and high in fiber. Make sure you get enough calcium, as women after menopause are more vulnerable to osteoporosis. Add weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, dancing, lifting light weights, at least three days a week.

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