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

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 »

Menopause symptoms can last longer than you expect

Recent studies indicate that women may have menopausal symptoms into their 60s. There are several new tools to help you decide among the many treatment options—lifestyle modifications, nonhormonal medication, and hormone therapy. More »

New guidelines for treating vaginal atrophy

Almost half of postmenopausal women experience dryness and thinning of the vagina and vulva. The North American Menopause Society recommends vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, as well as vaginal or oral estrogen to treat symptoms. (Locked) More »

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 »