It’s not always obvious when you’re entering menopause. Here are the signs to look out for.

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When does menopause begin and what can you expect to experience? The answer may vary.

According to the North American Menopause Society, most women begin the transition to menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, and the average age is 51. Even so, there are no hard and fast rules about when menopause happens and what symptoms come with it.

For example, some women may experience “premature” menopause before the age of 40, sometimes due to illness or prior medical procedures. Menopausal age can also be influenced by a variety of factors including race, ethnicity, lifestyle and a person’s individual genetic makeup.

While each person’s experiences will vary slightly, the following signs and symptoms offer strong clues that your body is heading into menopause:

1. Less frequent, irregular or missed periods. The most reliable sign that you’re beginning to go through menopause is that your periods become less frequent, irregular or you miss periods entirely. This happens because as you begin to enter menopause, you’re ovulating less often. This phase of irregular periods may last as long as eight years before having your final menstrual period.

2. Your periods are lighter or heavier than usual. Some people experience lighter periods because of lower estrogen levels, while others may notice that their periods become heavier. Heavier periods are especially common when periods become spaced out further, because the uterine lining has more time to build up before the onset of the next period.

3. You begin to have hot flashes or night sweats. Hot flashes are also among the more common symptoms associated with menopause; you may suddenly feel flushed across your face and neck. When hot flashes occur at night, you may experience night sweats followed by chills. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.

4. You find yourself experiencing frequent mood swings or depression. While some people are quick to attribute mood swings or mental health struggles in their 40s or 50s to a “mid-life crisis,” consider whether the hormonal changes associated with menopause may be to blame. Fluctuating estrogen levels can affect your body’s serotonin production and distribution, so it’s no wonder that entering menopause can cause you to run the gamut of emotions. Professionals like those at St. Joseph Mercy Health System’s Women’s Mental Health department can help you work through any concerns.

5. You have trouble falling asleep or frequently wake at night. While most people are aware that estrogen levels plummet during menopause, they may be less familiar with the other hormone that suffers from a precipitous drop: progesterone. Although progesterone’s main function is to prepare the uterus for pregnancy, it can also help promote sleep through sedative-like effects.

6. You gain weight or notice that your weight is distributed differently. Thanks to hormonal changes, you may notice a slow but steady increase in overall body fat, especially around your abdomen. As fat is increasingly stored around your midsection, your overall body shape may begin to change.

7. There’s a noticeable change in your libido. It’s not uncommon for your sex drive to decline as you enter menopause, especially given that lower levels of estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex.

Even though menopause is natural, talking to your doctor about the process can help you better understand the changes taking place in your body. Additionally, your doctor can also advise you about ways to manage symptoms, such as hormone replacement therapy.

Menopause, sometimes referred to simply as “the change,” is indeed a time for big changes in your life.  Understanding those changes in greater depth can help you ensure that you’re prepared for them.

If you’d like more information on menopause, or have questions about any other health-related issues, visit St. Joseph’s Mercy Health System.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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