Menopause is part of the natural process of female aging. It is defined as starting 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual cycle and is measured from her last period. Menopause typically happens when a woman is in her 40s and 50s. There is a period before menopause, perimenopause, when the ovaries slowly lessen their production of estrogen (the female sex hormone).
Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, irritability, trouble sleeping and night sweats, anxiety, vaginal dryness, and weight gain as metabolism slows. Some of these symptoms may start during perimenopause along with irregular and skipped periods. Situations that may cause menopause to begin earlier include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, hysterectomy (removal of uterus), and primary ovarian insufficiency (ovaries stop producing a normal level of estrogen). The number and severity of symptoms experienced by women vary greatly.
Following menopause, the risks for heart disease, osteoporosis (bones become brittle), and loss of bladder control increase. If you experience bleeding after menopause, check with your doctor or obstetrician as this may be a sign of uterine cancer.
Menopause can usually be self-diagnosed from its symptoms, but a hormone test can confirm lowered levels of estrogen and increased levels of follicle stimulating hormone. Treatments for symptoms include application of vaginal estrogen to reduce dryness, antidepressants, and other drugs as well as natural remedies. Hormone replacement theory has both risks and benefits and you should be fully informed of both before making your decision. Those experiencing few or mild symptoms may manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes. Continue to talk with your doctor, gynecologist or midwife as your symptoms may change over time and new treatment options may become available. Support groups are available for more resources and to connect with other woman undergoing menopause.