What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural condition that marks the end of the reproductive period in a woman’s life and encompasses all the changes a woman goes through as she stops menstruating.
Stages of menopause
Stages of the menopause process include:
Perimenopause can occur as early as eight to ten years before menopause starts, as a woman’s ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. Most women start perimenopause in their 40s. Although you will still have your period and can get pregnant during perimenopause, you also could start experiencing menopause symptoms.
During the last year of perimenopause, the drop-in estrogen accelerates, and symptoms may become more intense. Women can be in perimenopause for a few months to as long as four years. The stage ends when you go one year without a menstrual period.
Menopause occurs as a woman stops releasing eggs and producing estrogen. This will cause you to stop having a period. When you have not had a period in a year, you will be officially diagnosed as in menopause. Symptoms are the most severe during this period.
Post menopause occurs after menopause. Although most women will start experiencing symptom relief during this stage, there is increased risk for other conditions, such as heart disease and osteoporosis, as your estrogen levels continue to decrease.
Causes of menopause
Every woman is born with a limited number of eggs. Menopause occurs as you stop releasing eggs and you no longer have a period. Although most women enter perimenopause in their 40s, some women may go through menopause early due to a hysterectomy or damage to the ovaries. If you start menopause before the age of 40, it is considered premature menopause.
Risks factors for menopause
There are not any risk factors associated with natural menopause. Unless you had your ovaries removed before puberty, menopause is an inevitable part of aging for every woman
There are a few risk factors for patients who have been diagnosed with premature menopause, a condition where a woman’s period stops before the age of 40, or premature ovarian failure, a condition where the ovaries do not function properly, but you can have periodic periods.
Risk factors include:
- Genetic disorders such as Turner syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases such as thyroiditis or Addison’s disease
- Chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- Exposure to toxins such as environmental pollution, smoke from cigarettes or chemicals
Symptoms of menopause
Symptoms of menopause and severity of your symptoms will vary depending on the stage of menopause you are in. Symptoms of menopause may include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweat
- Cold flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Need to urinate more frequently
- Mood swings
- Dry skin or eyes
Perimenopausal women may also experience:
- Tender breasts
- Irregular periods
- Heavier periods
- Abnormally rapid heart rate
- Joint and/or muscle aches
- Change in sex drive
- Memory lapses or difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
Most women do not get all of these symptoms at one time. Symptoms can gradually come on and intensify as you get closer to menopause. Inform your doctor of any new symptoms that are causing you concern such as new headaches or urinary changes.
Diagnosis of menopause
Many women can self-diagnose menopause by monitoring their symptoms. Talk to your doctor during your annual gynecological visit. In preparation for your visit, track your symptoms as well as the timing of your menstrual cycles so your doctor can help accurately diagnose you. Your doctor may also take a vaginal swab to test the vagina’s pH level. During menopause your vaginal pH will rise from about 4.5 in your reproductive years to 6.
Other tests to diagnose menopause may include:
- Blood test to measure levels of estrogen or follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) in your blood
- Thyroid function test
- Lipid profile
- Liver and kidney function testing
Treatment of menopause
Many women will not need to treat symptoms of menopause. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, you may need medication or hormone therapy. Discuss the severity of your symptoms with your doctor so he or she can develop the most effective and safe treatment plan for you.
Lifestyle changes to treat menopause may include:
- Use water-based lubricants during sexual activity if you are experiencing vaginal dryness.
- Eat a nutritious diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, proteins and healthy fats.
- Exercise daily
- Avoid caffeine
- Stop smoking
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Sleep from seven to nine hours a night.