Menopause doesn't make a grand entrance—no fanfare, no day and date celebration of a definable event. Menopause becomes a reality for most women through a series of physical, mental, and emotional changes—some subtle, some more dramatic—that tend to emerge, evolve, intensify, and fade over a period of weeks, months, and years. And the changes are unique to each individual, so women don't have a single "menopause profile" to compare themselves to. Menopause can have many faces, and there's no one best way to prepare for or experience it.
So how do you know when you are approaching menopause?
Consider the following. You're forty-something and life is pretty good. You've been at your current job long enough to feel that you have things under control (well, sort of). Your ideas and experience have earned you a fair amount of respect in your workplace, and every day you're a little clearer about who you are and where you want to go. Your family is maturing, too; with any luck, you spend less time chauffeuring, cooking, and picking up after others, and more time gardening, working out at the gym, reading, or maybe taking a class at a local community college. Your finances have been improving gradually over the years, and you may have a little more money now to indulge in the things you love best. And you're still young—you look ahead toward many long, happy years of health and well-being.
Whatever form of menopause you experience, the results are the same; you stop having periods, you stop being fertile, and you move into the postchildbearing phase of your life. That doesn't mean you become old as a result of menopause; according to the North American Menopause Society (NAM), the average age of natural menopause in the Western world is fifty-one. Most American women born after 1950 can expect to live until their mid-eighties, meaning that the majority of menopausal women in the United States today have one-half to one-third of their lives to live after they've gone through menopause.
But everyone's body is aging all of the time. In menopause, your body undergoes changes that require your attention. Your fluctuating hormones deplete your body's calcium, resulting in bone loss. As you age, you may become more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. (More pages on this site discuss these changes and how you can best protect yourself from their negative consequences.) Menopause means you need to learn new ways to remain healthy, strong, and vital.
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