Menopause is when the menstrual period ends permanently. It is a natural process that can begin over several years. Menopause is confirmed when it has been a year without a period. It most often occurs naturally around age 52, but can happen any time between ages 40 and 60. Menopause that occurs before age 40 is considered premature menopause.
Menopause is a gradual process. Perimenopause is the time before, when your body is gradually moving towards menopause. It includes changes to hormone levels and irregular pattern of periods.
Menstrual period happens because of hormones called estrogen and progresterone. These hormones are released by the ovaries. Natural menopause is caused by a gradual decrease in estrogen. The decrease in hormones eventually stops the ovaries from releasing eggs.
Menopause can also be caused by surgery that removes the uterus or ovaries. Menopause will occur immediately after surgery in these cases.
Menopause itself may not have symptoms. Symptoms are more common in the time leading up to menopause and may include:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Disturbed sleep patterns, such as insomnia
- Mood changes, which may include irritability, anxiety or depression
- Vaginal dryness and pain with sexual intercourse
- Dry skin
- Decreased interest in sex
- Frequent urination or leaking of urine
Your doctor will ask you about your period cycle. Perimenopause or menopause is suspected based on symptoms and age. Once the menstrual period is absent for 12 months it is considered menopause.
Menopause may need to be confirmed after a surgery. A blood test may be done to look for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). High levels of FSH suggest menopause.
Menopause is a natural part of life that does not need treatment itself.
The changes in hormones can cause symptoms in the early stages. Certain treatments and lifestyle changes may help decrease symptoms that are causing problems.
These hormones also play a role in protecting the bones and heart. The decrease in hormones can increase your risk of heart disease or osteoporosis. Lifestyle changes can help decrease the risk of these conditions.
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Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT may help decrease symptoms by replacing some of the hormones for a short time. HRT medications may include:
- Combinations of estrogen and progesterone
- Low amounts of male hormones
HRT is available as tablets, gels, skin patches, vaginal rings, vaginal tablets, injections, and pellets inserted into the skin.
Hormones affect the entire body. While it may reduce certain symptoms it can also increase the risk of other illnesses. Some risks associated with HRT include:
- Uterine cancer
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Heart disease
- Blood clots
HRT is not a good choice for some women due to personal choice or high risk of some cancers. Other options to help deal with symptoms includes:
Medication to help decrease hot flashes:
- Certain blood pressure medications
- Antiseizure medications
- Antidepressant medications
- Vaginal moisturizers and vaginal lubricants to help decrease vaginal dryness.
A healthful diet during menopause may decrease some of your symptoms. It can also help you feel better overall and reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Aim for a balanced diet that has:
- Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Low amounts of saturated fats (found in animal products), trans fats, processed foods, and sugars
- Lean protein options such as chicken, fish, eggs, or nuts
Your diet should also include enough calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. Look for foods high in calcium (such as milk, yogurt) and vitamin D (such as fish). Ask your doctor if vitamin D or calcium supplements are needed. Sun exposure also increases the amount of vitamin D.
Regular physical activity may help decrease symptoms, manage weight, and decrease stress. Weight-bearing exercises like walking and strength exercises may also help keep bones healthy.
Certain habits can make symptoms worse. For example:
- Caffeine and alcohol may increase your symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. They can also increase your loss of calcium. If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation. Moderation is 1 drink or less per day.
- Spicy or hot foods may make hot flashes worse.
- Smoking can increase the risk of early menopause, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Stress management may help ease tension and anxiety. Find methods that work best for you such as breathing exercises, massage, warm baths, and quiet music.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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Office on Women's Health http://www.womenshealth.gov
The North American Menopause Society http://www.menopause.org
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca
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