Menopause is a normal part of a woman's life. It is when the menstrual periods permanently end. This happens because as a woman ages, her ovaries make less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These are the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle.
The average age for women to have their last period is about 51. But it's normal for menopause to occur any time from age 40 to 59. A woman often goes through menopause at about the same age as her mother.
Women who have both ovaries removed will go through "surgical menopause" at the time of their surgery. If the uterus is taken out but the ovaries are not, a woman will stop having periods, but she will not go through surgical menopause.
If you stop having periods early (before age 40) your doctor can do a blood test to see if you're actually going through menopause or if there is another cause for your missed periods.
Menopause is a gradual process that can take several years. You're not really through menopause until you haven't had a period for 12 months. (During this time, keep using birth control if you don't want to become pregnant.)
Some women just stop having periods. Most women experience some symptoms, such as the following:
A change in your menstrual cycle. This is one of the first signs of menopause. You may skip periods or they may occur closer together. Your flow may be lighter or heavier than usual.
Hot flashes. Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause.
When you have a hot flash, you'll feel warm from your chest to your head, often in wave-like sensations. Your skin may turn red and you may sweat. You may feel sick to your stomach and dizzy. You may also have a headache and feel like your heart is beating very fast and hard.
Vaginal dryness. During and after menopause, the skin of your vagina and vulva (the area around your vagina) becomes thinner. Your vagina also loses its ability to produce as much lubrication (wetness) during sexual arousal. These changes can lead to pain during sex.
You can use an over-the-counter water-based sexual lubricant (such as K-Y Jelly) or moisturizers for the vaginal area (such as Vagisil) to make sex less painful. You can also talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of using prescription estrogen cream for vaginal changes.
Urinary tract problems. You're more likely to have bladder and urinary tract infections during and after menopause. Talk to your doctor if you have to go to the bathroom often, feel an urgent need to urinate, feel a burning sensation when urinating or are not able to urinate.
Headaches, night sweats, trouble sleeping and tiredness are other symptoms. Trouble sleeping and feeling tired may be caused by hot flashes and night sweats that keep you from getting a good night's rest.
Weight gain. Many women gain weight during menopause. A healthy diet and exercising most, if not all, days of the week will help keep you fit.
Many women experience emotional symptoms during menopause. These symptoms may include sadness, anxiety and mood swings. For some women, symptoms can be severe. If you find that you're having emotional problems, talk to your family doctor.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment for menopause that involves taking synthetic hormones (which are made in a laboratory rather than by the body). HRT can be estrogen taken alone or estrogen combined with another hormone, progestin. Some women have found that HRT can relieve symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and some urinary problems. However, HRT is not for everyone. New information from recent studies suggests that for many women, the risks of using HRT may outweigh the benefits. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT.
Yes. Medicines such as estrogen cream, low-dose antidepressants, soy products and certain herbal supplements may help ease some menopausal symptoms. Discuss these options with your doctor.