Healthy Living

What Is Menopause?

By: Siobhan O'Grady

What is Menopause?

Menopause is an important change in a woman's body

Key Takeaways

  • Menopause is a natural hormonal change in women.
  • The average age of menopause is between the ages of 45-years-old and 55-years-old.
  • The most common side effect of menopause is hot flashes.

Menopause is a normal process resulting from aging, in women. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45-years-old and 55-years-old. This is characterized by the cessation of menstruation along with a number of changes in the body, and marks the end of the reproductive period in women.

Causes of menopause

Menopause is caused by the changes in the ovulation, menstruation, and the levels of female hormones. In women, the ovaries store a finite number of eggs and the ovaries release these eggs periodically. The ovaries also produce estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that regulate ovulation and menstruation. Under normal conditions, as age advances (between the ages of 40-years-old and 45-years-old) the ovaries stop the release of eggs every month, and menstruation is stopped. Surgical menopause occurs when a surgery or medical treatment causes the body to drop in levels of estrogen. Hormone therapy for breast cancer and chemotherapy may also result in premature menopause.

Menopause normally occurs after the age of 40-years-old. In some cases, menopause may happen before a woman reaches 40-years-old, due to several reasons, including surgery or damage to the ovaries.

Natural menopause happens in several stages, including:

  • Perimenopause – this occurs a few years before actual menopause, when the ovaries produce less estrogen. Perimenopause leads up to the stage when the ovaries stop the release of eggs, otherwise known as menopause. The amount of estrogen produced declines considerably in the last few years of perimenopause, and women at this stage begin to feel the symptoms of menopause.
  • Menopause – this is the stage in which a woman has not had menstruation for a a little over a year. The ovaries have completely stopped the release of eggs at this point, and the amount of estrogen produced hits rock bottom.
  • Postmenopause – the years after menopause are usually referred to postmenopause. The symptoms of menopause reduce during this stage. As estrogen is not produced by the ovaries, the body faces a number of health risks associated with it.

Symptoms of menopause

Symptoms of menopause usually vary from one woman to another. One of the most common symptoms of menopause is hot flashes, a condition in which the body feels a sudden spread of warmth that is often accompanied by sweating and blushing. Most women who experience menopause may have mild hot flashes, while some may have very severe cases.

Some of the other common symptoms of this condition include:

Long term health problems associated with menopause

As the amount of estrogen decreases in women at this stage in life, they will face a number of health problems, and several of these issues may be long-term. As a woman grows older, she is likely to suffer from several conditions, including:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Poor control or bladder and bowel issues
  • Increased wrinkling of the skin
  • Decrease in muscle tone
  • Deterioration of vision

Treatment for menopause

Treatments for menopause depend on the severity of symptoms, overall health of the patient, and her preference. Hormone therapy and lifestyle changes are the most common methods used to alleviate the symptoms.

Hormone therapy refers to a treatment with the hormones estrogen, and sometimes, progesterone. Hormone therapy is advised after a complete medical history background check. One can take up this therapy after discussing the benefits and risks of the treatment method with a health care professional. Hormone therapy is found to be very effective in reducing symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. However, some studies have shown that this therapy is associated with an increased risk for developing breast cancer, a heart attack, strokes, and blood clots. Do have a detailed discussion with the doctor before opting for this therapy.

A number of medications are now available as an alternative to hormone therapy to alleviate the symptoms. These medications which include, antidepressants, blood pressure drug clonidine and seizure drug gabapentin help to reduce symptoms like mood swings and hot flashes.

Some of the major lifestyle changes that may be of help in treating the condition include:

  • Limiting the intake of alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods
  • Consuming foods that contain soy, as it contains estrogen
  • Consuming foods rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • Regular exercise
  • Slow, deep breathing to reduce hot flashes
  • Practicing yoga and meditation