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

High blood pressure a silent danger in postmenopausal women

Nearly a third of American adults have high blood pressure, half of whom don’t have their blood pressure under control—despite most of them having a doctor and health insurance. Forty percent of people with uncontrolled high blood pressure aren’t aware they have the condition. It’s crucial to treat blood pressure, because it can lead to heart disease, stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, and other health issues if left unchecked. Treatment usually starts with one or more blood pressure medications, along with lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise. More »

Testosterone therapy: Is it for women?

Testosterone therapy is not currently FDA-approved to treat low libido in women, yet some women take this treatment off-label, not only for sexual issues, but also to improve muscle and bone strength and boost mood. There is no evidence that any benefits outweigh the side effects of this therapy for women. Anyone who is experiencing a loss of interest in, or lack of response to, sex should consider discussing the problem with her doctor. (Locked) More »

Hormone therapy update

A decade ago, women used hormone therapy to relieve menopause symptoms and to prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia. Today, the thinking has changed. Hormone therapy is no longer recommended for chronic disease prevention, although experts say many women can still use it early in menopause to relieve symptoms. (Locked) More »

Is hormone therapy safe again?

Several authoritative organizations have issued new guidelines about hormone therapy (HT)—an area that has led to confusion and conflicting guidelines for the past decade. A coalition of 15 medical groups, including the North American Menopause Society, issued a statement declaring that HT is acceptable for short-term use in healthy women with marked menopausal symptoms up to age 59 or within 10 years of menopause. Short-term use in women of that age does not increase the risk for heart attack and stroke, and does relieve symptoms of menopause. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against long-term use of HT for the purpose of preventing chronic medical conditions, as contrasted with the purpose of treating menopausal symptoms. (Locked) More »

Lifestyle changes help keep weight off after menopause

Postmenopausal women who eat fewer desserts and fried foods, drink fewer sugary beverages, eat more fish, and eat at restaurants less often are better able to lose weight and keep it off. Over the long term, eating more fruits and vegetables and less meats and cheeses is also important for weight loss. (Locked) More »

Hormone therapy: A new consensus

Fifteen medical organizations have jointly released a statement reinforcing the benefits of hormone therapy for menopause symptoms. The organizations jointly conclude that hormone therapy is still safe—provided that women take it early in menopause and use it for the shortest possible period of time.   (Locked) More »