Menopause used to be a taboo word. Instead, our parents' generation used euphemisms to describe this very natural process. It was the "change of life" or just "the change." But these days, fortunately, we can be much more open about menopause and, hopefully, separate myths from facts.
When I was writing The Menopause Book, I got tons of questions from women I know about every aspect of this transition except one: what exactly is menopause? If you ask a dozen women of a certain age, you will probably get a dozen answers. So I thought I would give just a few basic facts:
The medical definition of menopause is a year without periods. That time frame, a year, is actually drawn from statistics that show that after a year without periods, it's unlikely that you will start menstruating again. If you do bleed after that time, call your doctor immediately. It could be a sign of a serious problem.
The average age of menopause in this country is 51. That means that some women stop earlier and others later but the vast majority go through this transition sometime between 45 and 55.
You're most likely to get hot flashes in the years just before your periods stop. These years have recently earned their own special name: perimenopause. It means before menopause and this is the time that gets all the bad press. Hot flashes can interrupt your sleep, which makes you tired and cranky during the day. That can give rise to the menopause blues.
You don't need drugs to get through menopause. Most women go through this transition with just a few stumbles and come out on the other side. Hot flashes can be controlled somewhat with lifestyle changes like losing weight, stopping smoking and wearing lighter clothing. If none of these work, talk to your doctor about what else you can do.
Weight gain is a problem. Your metabolism slows as you get older. You're also less likely to be physically active. The result: a slow weight gain. You'll need to really watch what you eat and probably cut down a bit as well as increase your physical activity if you want to avoid gaining weight.
I'll write more about all of these topics in the weeks ahead.