Menopause

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when the function of the ovaries ceases and she can no longer become pregnant. The ovary (female gonad), is one of a pair of reproductive glands in women. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and female hormones such as estrogen. During each monthly menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one ovary. The egg travels from the ovary through a Fallopian tube to the uterus.

The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. The hormones also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Estrogens also protect the bone. Therefore, a woman can develop osteoporosis (thinning of bone) later in life when her ovaries do not produce adequate estrogen.

  • The average age of menopause is 51 years old, but menopause may occur as early as the 30s or as late as the 60s. There is no reliable lab test to predict when a woman will experience menopause.
  • The age at which a woman starts having menstrual periods is not related to the age of menopause onset.
  • Symptoms of menopause can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, hot flashes, vaginal and urinary symptoms, and mood changes.
  • Complications that women may develop after menopause include osteoporosis and heart disease.
  • Treatments for menopause are customized for each woman.
  • Treatments are directed toward alleviating uncomfortable or distressing symptoms.
  • Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. It is the time in a woman’s life when the function of the ovaries ceases.
  • The process of menopause does not occur overnight, but rather is a gradual process. This so-called perimenopausal transition period is a different experience for each woman.

How Does Natural Menopause Happen?

Natural menopause is not brought on by any type of medical or surgical treatment. The process is gradual and has three stages:

  • Perimenopause. This typically begins several years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually make less estrogen. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last 1 to 2 years of perimenopause, the drop in estrogen quickens. At this stage, many women have menopause symptoms.
  • Menopause. This is the point when it’s been a year since a woman last had her last menstrual period. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and making most of their estrogen.
  • Postmenopause. These are the years after menopause. During this stage, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes ease for most women. But health risks related to the loss of estrogen rise as the woman ages.

What Conditions Cause Premature Menopause?

Premature menopause can be the result of genetics, autoimmune disorders, or medical procedures. Other conditions that may cause early menopause include:

  • Premature ovarian failure. Normally, the ovaries make both estrogen and progesterone. Changes in the levels of these two hormones happen when the ovaries, for unknown reasons, prematurely stop releasing eggs. When this happens before the age of 40, it’s called premature ovarian failure. Unlike premature menopause, premature ovarian failure is not always permanent.
  • Induced menopause. “Induced” menopause happens when the ovaries are surgically removed for medical reasons, such as uterine cancer or endometriosis. Induced menopause can also result from damage to the ovaries caused by radiation or chemotherapy.

What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?

Most women approaching menopause or who are postmenopausal will have hot flashes, a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the upper body, often with blushing and some sweating. The severity of hot flashes varies from mild in most women to severe in others.
Other common symptoms around the time of menopause include:

  • Irregular or skipped periods
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Changes in libido (sex drive)
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bladder control problems

Not all women get all of these symptoms.

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