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

Diet might delay — or hasten — the onset of menopause

Researchers linked consumption of certain foods to age at menopause. They found that women who consumed more oily fish and legumes went through menopause later, while those who ate more refined pasta and rice began the change earlier. Regardless of any potential effect on age at menopause, adopting a healthful diet is always a good idea. (Locked) More »

Is this normal?

Different women experience different types of vaginal discharge. There is a wide range of “normal.” However, some symptoms like postmenopausal bleeding do warrant a closer look from the doctor. (Locked) More »

When the arrival of menopause brings symptoms of depression

The odds of experiencing symptoms of depression go up as women reach perimenopause and early postmenopause. Hormone therapy has been shown to help ward off these symptoms. But experts say despite the findings, hormone therapy should be used for prevention only in limited circumstances, because the treatment brings its own risks. More »

Nonhormonal treatments for menopause

Menopause—medically defined as the absence of a menstrual period for a year—is due to a decline in estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries. About 60% to 80% of women experience menopause symptoms, most commonly hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Studies indicate that menopause symptoms can last a decade or longer, affecting substantial numbers of women in their 60s. Although randomized clinical trials indicate that hormone therapy can be safe and effective way to control most menopause symptoms, it's not considered a first-line approach. Dr. JoAnn Manson, Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women's Health at Harvard Medical School, suggests trying lifestyle modifications for at least three months after symptoms begin before trying hormone therapy. The following have been found effective in reducing the discomfort from hot flashes—both those that interrupt daily life and those that disturb sleep: More »