Menopause is the time when a woman's menstrual period ends. Menopause is considered complete when a woman has been without her period for one year. Menopause can occur any time between ages 40 and 60. On average, it occurs around age 52.
Menopause is gradual. The period of time leading up to complete menopause is called perimenopause. Premature menopause occurs before the age of 40. Menopause can also be surgically induced when the ovaries are removed.
Menopause is a natural process. Treatment is used to manage the symptoms associated with menopause.
Menopause is caused by a gradual decrease in a hormone called estrogen. Estrogen is released by the ovaries. The decrease in estrogen eventually stops the ovaries from releasing eggs.
Symptoms may include:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Disturbed sleep patterns, which may progress to insomnia
- Mood changes, which may include irritability, anxiety or depression
- Vaginal dryness and pain with sexual intercourse
- Dry skin
- Decreased interest in sex
- Frequent urination or leaking of urine
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Natural menopause is diagnosed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Menopause may need to be confirmed if it was caused by a surgical procedure. A blood test may be done to look for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). High levels of FSH may indicate menopause.
Menopause is a natural part of life. It does not necessarily require treatment. However, symptoms and health risks associated with low estrogen can be treated. Symptoms include hot flashes or vaginal dryness. You may need additional treatment if you have (or to prevent) osteoporosis, which is a loss of bone mass.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Types of hormone replacement therapies include:
- Combinations of estrogen and progesterone
- Low amounts of male hormones
HRT is available as tablets, gels, skin patches, vaginal rings, vaginal tablets, injections, and pellets inserted into the skin.
There are a number of possible risks associated with HRT, such as:
A healthful diet during menopause can improve your sense of well-being. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. The diet should be low in fat. It should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Your diet should also include enough calcium and vitamin D.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol may increase your symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. They can also increase your loss of calcium. If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation. Moderation is 1 or less drinks per day.
Smoking can increase the risk of early menopause, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Weight-bearing exercises like walking and climbing stairs, and strength exercises may also decrease your risk of osteoporosis, especially in women who are inactive. Aerobic exercise may reduce some symptoms of menopause in women who are inactive.
Stress management may help ease tension, anxiety, and other menopausal symptoms. Deep breathing, massage, warm baths, and quiet music are examples of relaxation techniques.
Vaginal moisturizers and vaginal lubricants are used to help vaginal dryness.
Nonhormonal Medications for Hot Flashes
Medication may be prescribed to reduce symptoms of hot flashes including:
- Certain blood pressure medications
- Antiseizure medications
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Reviewer: Andrea Chisholm, MD
- Review Date: 01/2015 -
- Update Date: 11/04/2013 -