February 15, 2015

Turning 40 and reaching mid-life does not have to mean mid-life crisis. Although many women experience changes both physically and emotionally around age 40, there are ways to embrace and mark the milestone as the beginning of the best years ahead. Not quite old but not quite young At age 40, a woman may being … Continued

Deb Schilling PA-C

Primary Care

Turning 40 and reaching mid-life does not have to mean mid-life crisis. Although many women experience changes both physically and emotionally around age 40, there are ways to embrace and mark the milestone as the beginning of the best years ahead.

Not quite old but not quite young
At age 40, a woman may being to notice her life is changing as her body changes along with it. She is not feeling quite old but isn’t quite young. While she may still feel young, her body is beginning to reject what was once considered normal which is due primarily to hormonal fluctuations. Women begin to experience unintentional weight gain despite no dramatic change in eating habits or exercise. Clothes don’t quite fit the same as they used to even though the scale reads the same. They may feel testy and short, tired and annoyed. They find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Their periods may become irregular and different.

Forty is generally too young to experience menopause and its symptoms may not quite be on a woman’s radar screen. But, many women are unknowingly beginning to experience symptoms of what is referred to as perimenopause or pre-menopause. Because these symptoms may start on average up to eight years before the onset of menopause, many women do not realize the symptoms they are experiencing are related to menopause or its impending onset. Although these changes may be bothersome, they are a normal part of womanhood and most will experience at least some of the symptoms at one time or another.

Perimenopause-It’s all hormonal
Perimenopause or pre-menopause is the transitional period that precedes menopause in which hormonal imbalances and fluctuations occur in a woman’s body and may cause distress. During perimenopause, the body is beginning to transition into menopause, which is the time when a woman does not have a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months. Levels of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone and too little progesterone. She may begin to feel like her body is just a little off. Women’s bodies use hormones as a messenger delivering the message to stop and pay attention to their bodies. Hormonal imbalances cause many common symptoms of perimenopause. It may come as a relief to many women experiencing these symptoms that hormonal imbalance caused by perimenopause is normal and may be the culprit.

Physical symptoms of perimenopause :

  • menstrual changes
  • sleep disruption and disturbances
  • headaches
  • acne
  • wrinkling
  • vaginal dryness
  • changes in libido
  • weight redistribution and gain
  • hair loss
  • dizziness
  • urinary dysfunction
  • unwanted hair growth
  • water retention and bloating
  • heart palpitations
  • dry skin
  • hot flashes
  • night sweats

Emotional symptoms of perimenopause

  • anxiety
  • short-term memory loss
  • fuzzy thinking
  • difficulty multi-tasking
  • fatigue
  • mood swings
  • difficulty concentrating
  • anger
  • sense of urgency

The most common symptom and the first sign that a woman is facing perimenopause are changes in menstruation. Women may experience heavy bleeding, irregular periods, heavy cramping, longer or shorter duration, and changes in frequency. Perimenopause is not unlike puberty when a woman’s body and mind are also changing, In fact, changes that occur in puberty commonly recur in menopause. Perimenopause affects every woman differently. Intensity, duration, and frequency of symptoms vary from woman to woman. It is a normal change all women will experience at one time or another some sooner than later.

Reevaluation at 40
At 40, many women begin to notice that their lives are changing. This is the time in a woman’s, mother’s, and/or wife’s life where her plate is the fullest. Her kids may be at the age where she worries the most. They are starting to date, drive or even go to college or leave the nest. Financial troubles and stress may set in as she begins to think about paying for college or building a nest egg. The reality of needing a nest egg sooner than later is more apparent. Her parents are aging, The increase in worry and thought provokes anxiety.

But the stresses may be the root of many of the emotional symptoms experienced at 40. Because of all the things on a woman’s mind, it is common for her to experience sleep disturbances. She can’t stay asleep as long as she used to and may toss and turn all night long. All of those thought processes going through her mind result in sleep disruption which may cause anxiety and worry. And, because she can’t sleep, she feels moody and irritable. Because she is feeling moody, she may lose her temper and start to feel guilty. The effects snowball and eventually spiral out of control.

Embracing 40 and good health
Many thought processes and changes are occurring in a woman’s body and to remain healthy, she must learn how to best deal with them. There is a renewed need in the ’40s to focus on being healthy. This decade is critical to making healthy lifestyle changes to not only eat right but to exercise and make sure bone mass and muscles are thriving.

Exercise helps release stress and as the 40-year-old woman contemplates what she wants to tackle first, the endorphins released during exercise will help reduce the stresses. Even though in a woman’s 20’s she could sit and eat a pint of ice cream, munch on a bag of chips or down a pan of brownies, and would many times like to in her 40’s, that is not a reality. Many times women wonder why they have gained weight when they have not changed their eating habits. The reality is that women HAVE to eat differently starting in their 40’s because of those hormonal fluctuations that don’t allow women to eat the same way they did in their 20’s and 30’s, even if they feel 20 or 30. Women can not forget as they age, their metabolism slows down and the body is influenced by everything they do. Stretching and yoga, along with cardio fitness, will help boost metabolism. And, healthcare providers recommend that women exercise 30 to 40 minutes a day, five times a week. Eating balanced, healthy meals rich in fruits and vegetables will help.

Because women tend to do a lot of self-reflection in the nighttime hours, self-journaling to track thoughts and feelings on paper is great therapy. Laying reflections out on paper helps prioritize and create self-awareness, build self-confidence and make good decisions. It helps clarify who a woman strives to be, what she may be out of life, and how to achieve it. Another useful outlet for women entering the 40’s decade is coming together with same-age girlfriends to compare notes and realize they are all in the same boat. Relaxing with girlfriends, having fun, laughing, and even crying are all good medicine.

The best days are ahead
Forty can be one of the best times of a woman’s life both emotionally, sexually, and physically. Studies show that women 40 and older tend to be more confident and know why they like and need than in their earlier years. There is a decrease in dependence and self-criticism and an increase in self-confidence and decisiveness. Also-some women tend to have an increased libido at this age. In the child-bearing days, many women feel heavier pressures and demands from children and home life. Children of women in their forties tend to be older and more independent. The days of a child clinging to mom have lessened and she may feel more accepting. Thus, intimacy with her spouse improves.

To put it simply, a woman entering her forties may help herself prepare for the impending physical and emotional changes by making healthier lifestyle choices, in turn making the transition years easier to accept.