Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. It is the time in a woman’s life when the function of the ovaries ceases. The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which controls the development of female body characteristics such as the breast, body shape, and body hair. The hormones also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Estrogens also protect the bone.
The Process of menopause does not occur overnight, but rather is a gradual process. This so-called perimenopausal transition Is a different experience for each woman. The average age of menopause is 51 years old, but menopause may occur as early as the 30s or as late as the 60s. There’s no reliable lab test to protect when a woman will experience menopause.
Each woman’s experience is highly individual. Some women may experience few or no symptoms of menopause, while others experience multiple physical symptoms. The extent and severity of symptoms vary significantly among women. It is also important to remember that symptoms may come and go over an extended period of time for some women.
Symptoms of menopause can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, hot flashes, vaginal and urinary symptoms, and mood changes. Complications that women may develop after menopause include osteoporosis and heart disease. Symptoms may include irregular vaginal bleeding as well as unpredictable excessive bleeding. Menstrual periods may occur more frequently or they may get further and further apart before stopping. There is no “normal” pattern of bleeding during the perimenopause and patterns vary from woman to woman.
Hot Flashes are common in women undergoing menopause. Hot flashes usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes. Although the exact cause is not fully understood, hot flashes are likely due to a combination of hormonal and bio chemical fluctuations brought on by declining estrogen levels. The average woman can have hot flashes anywhere from 5 to 10 years. Sometimes hot flashes are accompanied by night sweats. This may lead to awakening and difficulty falling asleep again, resulting in unrefreshing sleep and daytime tiredness.
Vaginal symptoms occur as a result of the lining tissues of the vagina becoming thinner, dryer, and less elastic as estrogen levels fall. Symptoms may include vaginal dryness, itching, or irritation and/or pain with sexual intercourse. Vaginal changes also can lead to increased risk of vaginal infections.
The lining of the urethra also undergoes similar changes and this can lead to an increased risk of urinary tract infection, feeling the need to urinate more frequently or urinary incontinence.
Women in perimenopause often report a variety of cognitive or emotional symptoms including fatigue, memory problems, irritability, and rapid changes in mood.
Many women report some degree of weight gain along with menopause. The distribution of body fat may change, with body fat deposited more in the waist and abdomen versus hips and thighs.
Changes in skin texture, including wrinkles, may develop along with worsening of adult acne in those affected by this condition.
Since the body continues to produce small levels of the male hormone testosterone, some women may experience some hair growth on the chin, upper lip, chest or abdomen.
Many of the symptoms of menopause and the medical complications that may develop in post menopausal women can be lessened or even avoided by taking steps to lead a healthy lifestyle including exercise, diet, and hormone replacement. Treatments for menopause are customized for each woman and are directed towards alleviating uncomfortable or distressing symptoms.