John W. Martin, MD, is associate director of the Obstetrics and Gynecology department and director of The Women’s Center at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz.
Question: Now that I’m over 40, I am anxious about menopause and concerned I will become depressed. What can I expect?
Answer: Women can experience a variety of symptoms during perimenopause. Perimenopause is a stage when your body begins its transition into menopause – typically during the mid to late 40s or early 50s. Hormonal changes associated with the various phases of menopause may lead to sleep problems and other symptoms, such as night sweats and hot flashes.
Studies have not confirmed a direct relationship between menopause and depression, though some research has shown a higher risk for mood changes, especially during early stages of perimenopause. In fact, a history of depression or severe PMS influences a woman’s risk for developing major clinical depression much more than perimenopausal hormonal changes. And even though perimenopause does not cause depression, hormone therapy may help reduce moodiness.
Menopause occurs at a time in a woman’s life that often coincides with “empty nest syndrome,” and unfortunately, this stage has developed a negative reputation that is greatly exaggerated. Many experts have found that socially active, healthy women embrace this time in their lives as an opportunity to experience new things with fewer restrictions. A woman may return to work or change jobs, find a new hobby or activity, spend time improving personal relationships, and even discover the joys of grand-parenting. And rest assured, if a woman does experience significant menopausal symptoms, there are hormonal and non-hormonal treatments that are excellent, safe and can be tailored to meet her needs.
Reviewed July 2010