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HomeHealth A-Z Menopause
Menopause
Menopause
Menopause is welcome by some and unwelcome by others, but none the less it is a turning point in the life of a woman.

Menopause

(MEN-uh-pawz)

Definition of Menopause

Menopause is the natural and permanent cessation of a woman's menstrual cycle, which usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.

Description of Menopause

Menopause, which is when menstruation stops, is something that all women will go through at some point in their life. The cessation of the menstrual cycle is completely normal and occurs as women age. Menopause has been known as the change of life for a long time as well as climacteric. The change is welcome by some and unwelcome by others, but it is generally a turning point in the life of a woman. Interestingly, menopause is not species specific as there are other mammals that also experience a cease in their cycles related to fertility.

The term menopause is Greek for the words meno, which means month and pausis which means a pause or cessation. In simple terms, menopause means the cessation of menses, or monthly period. For most women the process is gradual and can take about a year from onset to completion though some women go through the process in as little as six months or as many as five years. The individual experience varies widely.

The average onset of menopause for women is 51 years of age, though there are instances where women begin menopause earlier than 51. Those that have had cancer or serious illnesses are more likely to enter the change of life sooner. Those that enter menopause before the age of 40 are said to experience premature menopause but only about 1% of women will experience menopause this early in life. Of the 1% of women that do experience premature menopause many of them have autoimmune disorders, thyroid diseases, and type one diabetes.

Causes and Risk Factors of Menopause

The cause of menopause is well known, as it occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen. When there is a lack of estrogen production in the body a woman’s reproduction system shuts down, doing away with the need for monthly cycles that create a lining in the uterus. Those that are in their late 30’s or early 40’s will begin to enter perimenopause, which is the beginning stage of menopause. Women in their 50’s are the most likely to experience the full onset of the condition. Osteoporosis is a condition that is often linked to women who have gone through menopause because the hormonal changes affect their bones, making them more likely to fracture under very little stress.

Symptoms of Menopause

The symptoms of menopause are made known to women well before they enter menopause, often by their older family members and friend who have not enjoyed the experience! When a woman is going through menopause her hormones are fluctuating and that may cause hot flashes, heart palpitations, depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and an inability to concentrate. Other symptoms may include vaginal dryness and unpredictable menstrual periods. Many women describe sleep disturbances and night sweats as well.

In addition there are some vaginal symptoms that may or may not occur such as itching, bleeding, the need to urinate more often and with urgency, and even incontinence. There may also be changes in the skin such as breast atrophy, skin thinning, and decreased elasticity. Because there are hormonal changes associated with menopause, it can affect the skeletal system causing joint and muscle pain, back pain, and even osteoporosis.

Some women experience a better sex life after menopause while others complain changes such as a decreased desire to have sex and problems climaxing. Most of the symptoms will dissipate after menopause is complete.

Diagnosis of Menopause

The diagnosis of menopause is generally not difficult because it is a part of the aging process for every woman. Most doctors can simply talk to their patients and let them know without a doubt that they are indeed going through the change of life. If there is a question about it because of the premature age of the patient many doctors will do a blood test to measure the levels of FSH or follicle stimulating hormones in the blood. The doctor will also test the levels of luteinizing hormones in the woman’s body. Both of these hormones will be higher than normal if menopause has begun.

Again, because the symptoms are generally associated with women anywhere from 40-51 and older most doctors do not need to run any specific tests to determine whether their patients are or are not experiencing the onset of menopause. If menopause seems to drag on and on many doctors will do tests periodically to ensure that the woman is advancing through the process of menopause.

Treatment of Menopause

Of course, there is no cure for menopause as it is a naturally occurring stage in a woman’s life. What can be treated are some of the symptoms that one experiences during the process. Many doctors turn to hormone replacement therapy because it provides much relief to women, but it has been associated with increased cancer risks, so the risks and benefits must be weighed by a woman and her doctor before choosing this type of therapy.

Because many women become depressed when they enter menopause a common treatment is antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, and Effexor. Not only do these medications treat the depression, they may also decrease the number of hot flashes that women have, can help reestablish normal sleep patterns, mood, and the quality of life for the woman. In addition to the traditional treatments many women find help through acupuncture, yoga, and meditation or a mixture of these alternative treatments and medications.

Prevention of Menopause

There is no way to prevent menopause. As women age their reproductive system will gradually wind down until they are physically unable to conceive a child. The process is generally tolerable, especially with all of the treatments available today. Having a good attitude about menopause can make it a better experience, perhaps even something that they look forward to, a positive change of life.

External Resources

The North American Menopause Society

The National Women's Health Information Center

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