Menopause is a hormonal change that every woman will eventually experience. The ovaries stop releasing eggs, causing periods to stop, ending the time in a woman's life when she can become pregnant. Menopause normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
Many women experience symptoms related to this change such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. If you find that your symptoms keep you from engaging in your normal activities or enjoying life, we can help. You can use a variety of techniques and treatments to ease any discomfort.
Osteoporosis (bone loss) and an increased risk of heart disease are common concerns for women who have gone through menopause. You may wish to your health care provider about ways to keep your bones and heart healthy.
Menopause is marked by a decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Aside from your menstrual cycle, these hormones also affect:
- Height and weight
- Muscle tone
- Heart rate
The time between your regular fertile years and menopause is called perimenopause. During perimenopause, your ovaries will release fewer eggs and your periods will become irregular. You may experience some menopausal symptoms even though you are still menstruating.
There is no way to predict when you will start perimenopause, but you may experience it around the same age that your mother did (unless she had early menopause due to a hysterectomy). Although it typically starts in a woman's forties, it can start in your thirties as well and could last anywhere from a few years to around ten years.
After menopause has taken place, you will not have your period, because your ovaries are releasing too little estrogen and you are producing no progestin. Symptoms will vary, but many treatments are available.
Read more about menopause from our Women's Health Resource Center.
You can also read more about menopause and other related articles from our Dartmouth-Hitchcock Healthwise® Health Encyclopedia website:
- Menopause and Perimenopause
- Menopause: Should I Use Hormone Therapy (HT)?
- Sexuality and Physical Changes With Aging: Common Physical Changes in Women
Symptoms of menopause
Menopause is a natural process and does not require treatment unless you find the symptoms very uncomfortable. Symptoms vary from woman to woman.
Symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Mood swings
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness and pain during sex
- Decreased libido
When to see your health care provider
You should make an appointment for a checkup if:
- You are spotting between periods
- You have gone 12 months without menstruating, and then start bleeding again
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one treatment for the symptoms of menopause.
Talk with your health care provider about the risks (such as an increased risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots) and benefits (relief from symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness).
Short-term HRT is beneficial to some women. Hormones are taken in pill form or can be absorbed through a patch on the skin.
Other ways to manage the symptoms of menopause
- Dress in layers.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods.
- Practice meditative breathing during hot flashes.
- For vaginal health, remain sexually active and use lubricants when needed.
- Consider medications that help with particular symptoms such as mood swings and hot flashes. These may include antidepressants or blood pressure medication.
- Do not smoke. It can bring on early menopause.
- To keep your bones strong, exercise regularly and take calcium and vitamin D.
- Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and fat intake.