Introduction to Menopause
What is menopause?
When a woman permanently stops
having menstrual periods, she has reached the stage of life called menopause. Often
called the change of life, this stage signals the end of a woman’s ability to have
children. Many healthcare providers actually use the term menopause to refer to the
period of time when a woman’s hormone levels start to change. Menopause is said to
complete when menstrual periods have ceased for one continuous year.
The transition phase before
menopause is often called perimenopause. During this time, the supply of mature eggs
a woman’s ovaries is reduced and ovulation becomes irregular. At the same time, the
production of estrogen and progesterone decreases. It is the big drop in estrogen
that causes most of the symptoms of menopause.
When does menopause occur?
The average age of menopause is 51.
But menopause can happen any time from the 30s to the mid-50s or later. Women who
and are underweight tend to have an earlier menopause. Women who are overweight often
have a later menopause. Generally, a woman tends to have menopause at about the same
as her mother did.
Menopause can also happen for
reasons other than natural reasons. These include:
Premature menopause. This may happen when there is
ovarian failure before the age of 40. It may be linked to smoking, radiation
exposure, chemotherapy medicines, or surgery that impairs the ovarian blood
supply. Premature ovarian failure is also called primary ovarian
Surgical menopause. This may follow the removal of one
or both ovaries, or radiation of the pelvis, including the ovaries, in
premenopausal women. This leads to sudden menopause. These women often have more
severe menopausal symptoms than if they were to have menopause naturally.
What are the symptoms of
These are the most common symptoms
of menopause. Each woman may experience symptoms differently. Some have few and less
severe symptoms, while others have more frequent and stressful ones. The signs and
symptoms of menopause may include:
Hot flashes or
A hot flash may also
Hot flashes that
This is the drying
|Relaxation of the pelvic muscles||
This can lead to
These can include
Many people think
What can I do about hot flashes?
Hot flashes occur from a decrease
in estrogen levels. In response to this, your glands release higher amounts of other
hormones that affect the brain’s thermostat, causing your body temperature to fluctuate.
Hormone therapy has been shown to relieve some of the discomfort of hot flashes for
women. However, the decision to start using these hormones should be made only after
and your healthcare provider have evaluated your risk versus benefit ratio.
To learn more about women’s health,
and specifically hormone therapy, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of
National Institutes of Health launched the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) in 1991.
hormone trial had 2 studies: the estrogen-plus-progestin study of women with a uterus
and the estrogen-alone study of women without a uterus. Both studies ended early when
the research showed that hormone therapy did not help prevent heart disease and it
increased risk for some medical problems. Follow-up studies found an increased risk
heart disease in women who took estrogen-plus-progestin therapy, especially those
started hormone therapy more than 10 years after menopause.
The WHI advises that women follow
the FDA advice on hormone (estrogen-alone or estrogen-plus-progestin) therapy. It
that hormone therapy should not be taken to prevent heart disease.
These products are approved
therapies for relief from moderate to severe hot flashes and symptoms of vulvar and
vaginal atrophy. Hormone therapy may be effective in preventing postmenopausal
osteoporosis. But it should only be considered for women at significant risk of
osteoporosis who can’t take nonestrogen medicines. The FDA advises that hormone therapy
be used at the lowest doses for the shortest time needed to reach treatment goals.
Postmenopausal women who use or are thinking of using hormone therapy should discuss
possible benefits and risks to them with their healthcare providers.
Practical suggestions for coping
with hot flashes include:
Dress in layers, so that you
can remove clothing when a hot flash starts.
Don’t have foods or beverages
that may cause hot flashes. These include spicy foods, alcohol, coffee, tea, and
other hot beverages.
Drink a glass of cold water
or fruit juice when a hot flash starts.
Reduce your stress level.
Stress may worsen hot flashes.
Keep a thermos of ice water
or an ice pack next to your bed during the night.
Use cotton sheets, lingerie,
and clothing that allow your skin to breathe.
Keep a diary or record of
your symptoms to find what might trigger your hot flashes.
Treatment for menopause
Therapies that help to manage
menopause symptoms include:
|Hormone therapy (HT)||
HT involves the
The decision to
|Estrogen therapy (ET)||
ET involves taking
The decision to
This type of
When nearing menopause, talk about
the risks and benefits of each treatment option with your healthcare provider.