Menopause

Menopause marks the end of a woman's menstrual periods. A woman has officially gone through menopause when it has been one year since her last period.

In the months to years before menopause—a time called perimenopause—the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle changes.

In the United States, the average age of menopause is 51. But there is a wide range: some women have their last period in their 40s, others in their late 50s.

Anything that damages the ovaries or stops estrogen production can cause menopause to occur earlier. These include:

  • smoking
  • chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • surgery to remove the ovaries

Symptoms of menopause

Each woman’s experience of perimenopause and menopause is unique. Common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause include:

  • irregular periods
  • hot flashes and night sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • disturbed sleep
  • urinary incontinence

Women are also more likely to develop depression for the first time or have it recur. Some women report trouble with memory and the ability to concentrate.

Easing menopause symptoms

There are effective ways to deal with some of the symptoms of menopause.

Irregular periods. Low-dose birth control pills are an option for nonsmokers. Use of progesterone-like hormones also can help control heavy, irregular bleeding.

Vaginal dryness. Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers can relieve dryness.

Hot flashes. Many women can manage hot flashes with self-help approaches like beginning deep-breathing exercises at the beginning of a hot flash, wearing loose, comfortable clothing and dressing in layers, keeping the work place and home —especially the bedroom — cool.

Taking estrogen or other hormones can be safe and effective for short-term relief of symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats—provided it’s prescribed with a woman’s individual health in mind. Hormone therapy is also effective for preventing osteoporosis in women at high risk for breaking bones.

Menopause Articles

Menopause Makeover

Do you suffer from hot flashes and violent mood swings? Do you have difficulty getting a good night's rest? You may be experiencing perimenopause bedlam. Some women have only mild symptoms while others are incapacitated. Biologically, menopause is defined as the absence of your period for 12 consecutive months. Perimenopause is the few years before and after menopause. With all the talk about the dangers of taking estrogen for menopause symptoms, and the ineffectiveness of many alternative therapies, one treatment outshines all of the others to alleviate menopausal symptoms: exercise. Many of the physical changes commonly associated with menopause may actually be a reflection of inactivity or aging, and not solely a decline in estrogen production, and several studies have documented the benefit of exercise in reducing perimenopausal symptoms. Common changes that occur in perimenopause that may be combated by exercise are listed below. Although younger women have a lower risk of heart disease than men, after menopause a woman's risk of heart disease is almost the same as a man's. In fact, heart disease is the major cause of death in women. Heart-disease risk may grow along with age-related increases in weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A reduction in the heart-protective HDL cholesterol is common in perimenopause. Regular aerobic exercise elevates HDL and lowers triglycerides, glucose, and blood pressure, thereby reducing heart-disease risk. More »

Cardiovascular consequences of hormone therapy

Hormone therapy after menopause does not shield women from heart disease and may slightly increase their risk of a stroke. Women who take hormones to treat menopause symptoms should use the lowest possible dose for a short time only. (Locked) More »