Menopause is the time when a woman stops having menstrual periods.
Menopause usually starts slowly as a woman gets older. The ovaries start making less hormone (estrogen and progesterone). Menstrual periods start being irregular. After a time, periods stop completely.
Menopause happens suddenly if the ovaries are removed.
Most women go through menopause between ages 45 and 55. In the US the average age when menstrual periods stop completely is 51.
Hormonal changes can cause physical and psychological symptoms before and during menopause. The symptoms may come and go. Some women don’t have any symptoms.
Common physical symptoms are:
Menopause can also cause psychological symptoms, such as:
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and examine you. You may have blood tests. A pelvic exam and Pap test may show the effects of less estrogen in your body.
If you have not had a menstrual period for 12 months, you are probably in menopause.
Menopause is a natural part of a woman's life. It is not a disease and does not have to be treated. However, some health problems, such as osteoporosis, are associated with low estrogen. (Osteoporosis is a thinning and weakening of the bones.) To treat menopause symptoms and help prevent osteoporosis, your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes and possibly also medicine.
Treatment of menopause symptoms should start with:
Prescription medicines such as progesterone, clonidine, or an anxiety medicine may help treat hot flashes. Some women have found ginseng root and vitamin E to be helpful with hot flashes, but medical studies have not yet supported this.
Estrogen-like plant substances may help. Good sources of these substances are soybean products, other beans, rhubarb, carrots, and whole grains. Examples of soybean products include soy milk, tofu, roasted soybeans ("soy nuts"), and soy flour. Soy products can act like estrogen in the body. Tell your healthcare provider if you eat a lot of these foods or are taking supplements or herbal remedies.
Things you can do to keep your bones healthy are:
Treatment with estrogen and progesterone may be prescribed to treat symptoms of menopause if other treatments are not helping enough. This treatment is called estrogen therapy or menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). In addition to treating menopausal symptoms, MHT can help prevent bone loss (osteoporosis).
Hormone therapy may increase your risk for heart disease. It may also increase your risk for stroke, breast cancer, blood clots, some gallbladder problems, and possibly dementia. Also, estrogen taken without progesterone increases the risk of uterine cancer if your uterus has not been removed. Discuss the risks and benefits of hormone therapy with your healthcare provider.
If you are going to take hormone therapy, ask your healthcare provider about:
Estrogen may be taken in many different forms, such as:
If you still have your uterus and choose to take hormones, you will need to take progesterone with the estrogen. Taking estrogen alone may increase your risk of cancer of the uterus. The risk of cancer of the uterus may be less if you are using a vaginal form of estrogen treatment. Vaginal estrogen treatment is often prescribed for vaginal atrophy symptoms. It may not help as much as oral or skin treatments for the other symptoms of menopause.
If your uterus has been removed, you can take estrogen alone.
Symptoms of menopause may last just a few weeks or months. Some women keep having symptoms for several years.
To help your general mental and physical well-being, you should:
You may find it helps to:
For more information, contact:
North American Menopause Society
Phone: 440-442-7550 or 800-774-5342
Web site: http://www.menopause.org