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

Hormones and breast cancer: What you should know

Hormone therapy is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. A new study shows that risk is higher with both estrogen-only hormone therapy and progesterone-estrogen combination therapy. In addition, women who take hormones for a longer time have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. If a woman opts to take hormone therapy, it should be for as short a period as possible to manage symptoms. (Locked) More »

Hot flashes and heart health

Results of a recent study suggest a link between frequent and persistent hot flashes and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. However, even among women who had more hot flashes, the overall odds of having a heart-related event was still low. Since most women experience hot flashes around the time of menopause, more research is needed to better define the frequency and severity of hot flashes that would warrant extra attention to cardiovascular risk. (Locked) More »

Winning the weight battle after menopause

Changes in hormone levels just before and during menopause may cause women to gain weight and to store more weight around their middle, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes can help, but they may not always be enough to make a difference. Some women may need to seek out assistance from a weight-loss professional. (Locked) More »

Don't ignore vaginal dryness and pain

Vaginal dryness, irritation, and pain during intercourse affect 50% of women after menopause and are caused by declining estrogen levels in the body. A study showed that vaginal estrogen and moisturizers are equally effective in reducing symptoms in some women. But existing treatments often fall short of providing full relief. (Locked) More »

Postmenopausal bleeding: Don’t worry — but do call your doctor

You've gone through menopause and you thought your periods were a thing of the past — but suddenly, you're bleeding again, more than a year after your last period. Should you be concerned? The good news according to an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine, is that most likely your bleeding is caused by a noncancerous condition, such as vaginal atrophy, uterine fibroids, or polyps. But the study also reinforces the idea that postmenopausal bleeding should always be checked out by your doctor to rule out endometrial cancer, a cancer of the uterine lining, says Dr. Ross Berkowitz, William H. Baker Professor of Gynecology at Harvard Medical School. (Locked) More »

Exercise can help you keep your bones strong

Resistance training exercises aren’t just good for your heart; they can also improve your bone health. While adult women may not be able to build new bone as rapidly as children do, activities such as jogging and resistance training can stimulate new growth that can prevent age-related bone loss and osteoporosis. (Locked) More »

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 »