To Your Health
By James N. Dillard, M.D.,
(October 21, 2010) What events mark the milestones of a life? The birthdays that end with a zero, graduations, a wedding day, the birth of a child, or the loss of a parent? Each of us will mark the passage of time in our own unique ways. Yet for women, there is an essential passage that each one must make in her middle years.
During her 40s, a woman’s sex hormones begin to fluctuate. The eggs that were the most sensitive to stimulating hormones have already been shed from the ovaries. Higher levels of these hormones are now required to make the same amount of estrogen, and so the natural estrogen levels will fall.
Gradually, the menstrual cycle, which has followed the phases of the moon for decades, will become irregular, missing a month here or there. Eighty percent of women will feel warm skin flushes and night sweats. Some will have trouble sleeping and others will experience mood swings and gloominess. But many women will barely notice a thing.
Menopause, also referred to as the “change of life,” is defined as having no period for 12 months, and so its demarcation is a retrospective process. The average age for menopause in the United States is 51 years old, but there is tremendous individual variation.
Cigarette smoking is one of the few things that lowers the age of menopause. A smoker is likely to begin menopause two years earlier than nonsmokers. Autoimmune disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, thyroid problems, and ovarian damage or removal can cause early menopause (less than 40 years old).
A woman in her mid-40s may feel “a bit off” from time to time, but she will not recognize that her mild symptoms come from being perimenopausal. It can actually be a great relief to have a friend or doctor correctly ascribe her symptoms to normal hormonal changes.
Wow – a doctor talking about the menstrual cycle following the phases of the moon makes my day! Who would have thought….hmmm maybe he is reading this blog!