Menopause is a natural and expected hormonal shift that marks the end of the childbearing age with the cessation of ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Menopause is actually that moment in time when a woman no longer has the ability to ovulate, just as puberty is a moment in time when a woman starts to ovulate. The majority of women experience it between the ages of 47 and 57. Menopause is considered official when a woman over the age of 43 misses 12 menstrual cycles in a row. It may also be diagnosed via a blood test determining a low estrogen level and an elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) test.
What are Common Menopause Symptoms?
Irregular periods and hot flashes are the menopause symptoms that are the most well-known, but the symptoms don't end there. Women going through menopause often also experience vaginal dryness, night sweats, mood changes and loss of breast fullness. Sleep disturbance, difficulty focusing, a slowed metabolism, weight gain and thinning hair are all common menopause symptoms as well. The ease of gaining weight is attributed to the increase in the production of estrogen prior to menopause (the perimenopause). This increase in estrogen modifies an individual’s action of insulin, making it more efficient in gaining weight.
Any bleeding or spotting after menopause is complete is not normal. Consult with your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms, especially if you thought you were done having menstrual cycles.
What Causes Menopause?
When menopause occurs naturally, it happens as a result of the natural decline in reproductive hormones that occurs as women age as a result of the exhaustion of ovarian eggs. Menopause can also occur as the result of removing both ovaries, radiation or chemotherapy.
What Menopause Treatments are Available?
Common treatments for menopause are not designed to reverse the condition, but rather to alleviate any annoying, painful or inconvenient symptoms that accompany it and to make the transition easier for the women going through it. For example, the first measures doctors will generally recommend include eating a better diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, quitting smoking and wearing layers to help prevent overheating during a hot flash.
For women whose symptoms are more serious, doctors may also recommend treatments including hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, medications and supplements. If you think you may be going through menopause, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and ask which treatment method might be right for you.