What to know as you approach menopause

Hot flashes, irregular periods, mood swings – I’m having these menopause symptoms, but I’m only 42. Isn’t it too early?

It’s impossible to predict the arrival of menopause, but changes can happen sooner than women might expect.

"Menopause is a natural change in life for women and is not something to be feared,” said Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare. “There are many ways to deal with the symptoms of menopause. We recommend talking to your health care provider to discuss your options.”

Most women’s bodies prepare for menopause with a stage called perimenopause. It usually begins in the mid- to late 40s but can start as early as mid-30s. Perimenopause can last two to eight years, with the average being four years

woman pressing on forehead

The earliest changes likely go unnoticed. The ovaries produce fewer eggs and the level of estrogen declines. About one to two years before menstrual periods stop, the changes may become obvious. They can include hot flashes, mood swings, sleep problems, vaginal dryness and irregular periods.

Perimenopause should not be confused with early or premature menopause, where a woman’s period stops for good near or before her mid-40s. Those cases may be influenced by family history, smoking or medical treatments.

After perimenopause comes menopause, which occurs for the average American woman at age 52. Menopause is medically confirmed when an individual has gone 12 months without her period, including no spotting or bleeding. At this time, the ovaries stop producing eggs and women can no longer become pregnant. 

The transition can go beyond physical changes, affecting mood and mental health, as well. This may include an increase in anxiety or symptoms of depression.

The following coping mechanisms may help improve your day-to-day outlook and wellness through menopause:

  • Move more. Regular exercise serves as a sound step toward better health through all life’s stages, including menopause. Try to find some form of movement that is both motivating and rewarding.
  • Eat right. Consider bringing more healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins into your daily diet. Avoid weight gain and limit alcohol intake to help potentially curb or alleviate perimenopausal discomfort.
  • Consider acupuncture. Some research suggests that it’s possible that acupuncture may help with moderate to severe menopausal symptoms, such as controlling hot flashes. However, additional analysis may be needed to assess the effect on perimenopausal symptoms.

Though symptoms may be bothersome, keep in mind that menopause is a natural life stage. Sharing concerns and questions with your primary care provider can go a long way to understanding and managing your body’s changes.