What is menopause?
Menopause is a transition when the ovaries stop producing eggs, menstruation begins to decrease and eventually ends, and the body produces fewer female hormones, such as estrogen.
There are two causes of menopause:
- Natural: The average age of a woman going into menopause in the United States is 51, but it can occur in your 40s or later in your 50s and 60s.
- Medically or surgically induced: Menopause may occur suddenly because of surgery required to remove the ovaries or medical therapies to treat certain diseases, such as some chemotherapies for cancer treatment.
Natural menopause includes three phases:
- Perimenopause: Natural hormonal changes begin before the end of menstruation. This can start several years before menopause.
- Menopause: This phase begins 12 months after your last menstrual cycle.
- Post-menopause: Menstruation has stopped -- this phase lasts the rest of your life.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Many women experience menopause symptoms in the years before menstruation ends. They are caused by changes in natural hormone levels. As the ovaries become less functional, they produce less estrogen and progesterone, and the body reacts to these changing hormone levels.
Women may experience no symptoms, a few symptoms, or various symptoms ranging from mild to severe:
- Decreased sex drive
- Elevated cholesterol levels with risk for development of heart disease
- Hot flashes and skin flushing
- Irregular menstrual periods or no menstrual periods for months
- Mood changes
- Osteoporosis (loss of calcium from the bones, causing bone fragility)
- Trouble sleeping
- Vaginal dryness and painful during sex
- Weight gain, especially in the abdomen