What is Menopause?
Menopause is the point in a woman’s life when regular menstruation has stopped permanently, usually between the ages of 45 and 55. It is a normal consequence of the aging process.
Often called the “change of life,” menopause is the last stage of a gradual biological process in which the ovaries reduce their production of female sex hormones — a process which begins about three to five years before the final menstrual period. This transitional phase is called the climacteric, or perimenopause. Menopause is an individualized experience. Some women have severe symptoms that disrupt their lives, while others have only mild symptoms and notice little difference in their bodies or moods.
What Happens During Menopause?
During the transition period preceding menopause, a woman’s fertility is reduced as the supply of eggs in her ovaries diminishes and ovulation becomes irregular. Also, the production of estrogen and other hormones drops. At menopause, the ovaries stop releasing eggs completely and the production of estrogen decreases significantly.
Estrogen is a hormone that plays many roles in the body. In addition to regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle, it affects the reproductive tract, the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles and brain. It is the enormous drop in estrogen levels that causes the most common symptoms during menopause. Some women pass through menopause without any significant problems, although most women experience at least some symptoms.
What are the Symptoms?
Many woman find that the first sign of menopause is irregularity in their menstrual cycle. Symptoms disappear when menopause is complete (which usually lasts between one and five years).
Other symptoms can include:
- Menstrual periods that occur less often and eventually stop
- Hot flashes, usually worst during the first 1-2 years
- Heart pounding or racing
- Night sweats
- Skin flushing
- Sleep problems such as insomnia
- Anxiety, panic or depressive feelings
How is it Treated?
Treatment for menopause depends on many things, including how bad your symptoms are, your overall health, and your preference. It may include lifestyle changes or hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy may help if you have severe hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness. Hormone therapy is treatment with estrogen and, sometimes, progesterone.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone therapy. Your doctor should be aware of your entire medical history before prescribing hormone therapy (HT). Learn about options that do not involve taking hormones.
American College of Physicians. Internal Medicine. http://www.acponline.org/patients_families/special_topics/womens_issues/menopause/