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If you’re approaching menopause, dealing with menopausal symptoms, or if you have already gone through with menopause, you might find some solace knowing that every woman is destined to experience it, too. Menopause is a natural part of the process of reproductive aging. Contrary to the common misconception that menopause is a one-time phase that ends in a dramatic change, menopause is actually a gradual and ongoing process made up of three stages: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. Perimenopause is the time when most of the changes, or symptoms, associated with menopause begin. Menopause is the time when your menstrual periods actually stop. After you have not had any periods for 6 months to one year, you are considered postmenopausal, and you have new health risks and concerns. In fact, technically you don’t ever leave menopause the symptoms just subside.

A change in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the two major hormones that control your menstrual cycle and ovulation, causes menopause. These levels could begin to fluctuate any time during your 30s and 40s. Eventually, your menstrual periods will stop coming, and you will no longer be able to get pregnant. For at least one year after your periods stop, however, you should practice birth control to ensure an egg doesn’t get fertilized. Menopause is typically described by its more obvious symptoms—hot flashes, mood swings, and sleeplessness. But there are many other aspects of your health that are affected by the combination of menopause and aging, which contribute to major changes in your body and possibly your life. The good news is, these changes can be positive. It’s natural to grumble about the inconvenience of certain symptoms, but many women also find peace, contentedness and freedom in the maturity of their reproductive system.