It seems as if our lives revolve around our period. When you’re 13, it’s a big deal to get it. When you’re 23, you wish you didn’t have to deal with it. And when you’re 43, you start to wonder about what happens when it goes away. Heading toward menopause can mean hot flushes, weight gain and a higher risk of certain conditions such as heart disease, but it turns out your attitude toward “the change” can make a big difference in how you weather it.

“Women who know what to expect and have a positive outlook often have an easier time; a negative attitude can be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says gynaecologist Dr Karen Deighan. “Being prepared gives you a sense of control, and having the facts puts your concerns in perspective. That may lead you to make healthier choices, which will help you feel better overall.”

Understanding what’s really going on in your body is essential. Technically, menopause is just one day - you hit it when you haven’t had a period in 12 months. For most women, this happens around age 51, says gynaecologist Dr JoAnn Pinkerton. What we’re really talking about when we say someone is “going through menopause” is perimenopause, a time of transition that usually starts in your mid-40s and lasts at least four to five years. That’s when your ovaries slow their production of oestrogen and other hormones, and ovulation becomes irregular, causing the symptoms you hear so much about.

One of the first signs: a change in your period. Your cycle may get shorter or longer, or bleeding may become heavier or last for more days. Eventually, you skip periods and experience hot flushes and other symptoms. After menopause, your oestrogen levels even out and remain low, your ovaries stop making progesterone and symptoms ease up. How frequent or severe those symptoms will be varies.

“Just as every pregnancy is different, every perimenopausal experience is different,” says Dr Pinkerton. “For some women, the transition is easy; for a small percentage, it’s fairly difficult,” she says. “You may have a harder time if you have a history of very heavy periods or bad cramping, PMS, anxiety or depression. Even so, you can find relief.”

We asked experts for their advice to help you take charge of the change.

© Prevention Australia