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Your Guide to Menopause

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Everything You Need to Know About Menopause

Medically Reviewed By Stacy A. Henigsman, DO

Menopause is the natural transition to the end of menstruation and fertility. Sometimes, uncomfortable symptoms can be a part of this phase and affect your daily life. Medical treatments and some lifestyle changes can help. Menopause begins 12 months after your last period.

Though menopause is a natural and healthy transition that many people will experience, the symptoms can affect your daily life. Treatment can help relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Read on for more about menopause, including management, the treatment of symptoms, and outlook.

Key facts about menopause

  • Menopause is when a person’s periods have stopped permanently.
  • It occurs due to decreasing estrogen and progesterone hormone levels.
  • Symptoms can affect many bodily systems, including physical health, emotions, sleep, and sexual function.
  • Hormone therapy and other treatments can ease menopause symptoms.

What is menopause?

An older adult types on a laptop while drinking tea.
Photography by FG Trade/Getty Images

Menopause is the time in which you no longer have menstrual cycles.

If you do not usually have periods, perhaps due to taking birth control, doctors may diagnose menopause based on other symptoms, such as hot flashes or vaginal dryness.

The stages of menopause include:

  • Perimenopause: During this transitional stage, your reproductive hormone levels begin to fluctuate, slowing egg production in the ovaries. You may begin to experience symptoms such as hot flashes, changes in sleep patterns, and shifts in mood. Some people may also have irregular periods, although other people’s periods continue to be usual for them.
  • Menopause: Menopause Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source occurs after perimenopause and continues to cause changes in hormone levels, such as decreases in estrogen. You may experience other symptoms and stop having periods.
  • Postmenopause: This stage indicates the years after menopause. However, you might still experience menopause symptoms for a while.

Age and timing

Menopause can be a long transition. It can take several years before you experience 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. For example, you may still have a period after skipping a few months for a while.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source , the transition from perimenopause to postmenopause frequently lasts around 7 years. For some people, it may last as long as 14 years.

Menopause often begins between the ages of 45 and 55. The average age of starting menopause in the United States is 52.

Starting menopause between the ages of 40 and 45 Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source is considered early menopause.

Learn more about early menopause, including its symptoms, causes, and outlook.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

You may experience symptoms before, during, and after menopause as your hormone levels fluctuate. If you experience symptoms at the perimenopause stage, you may later experience different or more intense symptoms once menopause starts.

Common menopause symptoms Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source can include:

  • hot flashes or night sweats
  • palpitations, fast heartbeat
  • migraine
  • vaginal burning, itching, or irritation
  • needing to urinate more urgently or frequently or a burning sensation when urinating
  • more frequent urinary tract infections
  • impaired sexual function, such as low sexual desire, pain during sex, or vaginal dryness
  • restless leg syndrome
  • decreases in muscle or strength
  • joint pain
  • weight gain
  • insomnia and other sleep problems, such as waking up frequently during sleep, waking up earlier than usual, and sleep apnea

Some people may also experience emotional or psychological symptoms, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety, tension, or stress
  • mood changes, such as increased anger or irritability
  • loss of concentration
  • decreased self-esteem or confidence

Menopause symptoms may also worsen with:

  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • a lack of physical activity
  • emotional stress

Doctors may also notice medical signs of menopause, such as higher blood pressure.

Talk with a doctor if you have any menopause symptoms.

What causes menopause?

Menopause is a natural transition prompted by changes in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the function of the uterus and menstrual cycle.

During perimenopause, your hormone levels may fluctuate randomly, leading to symptoms. As menopause starts, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. This causes the ovaries to stop producing eggs, leading to the end of ovulation and menstruation.

Other conditions and factors may cause Trusted Source World Health Organization Highly respected international organization Go to source menopause to start, such as:

  • a hysterectomy
  • the surgical removal of the ovaries or uterus lining
  • radiation therapy and chemotherapy

Your age, health, and genetics may also affect when menopause begins. Still, the precise time menopause begins cannot be predicted.

How can you treat menopause symptoms?

Though not everyone will need treatment, a doctor can prescribe medication if symptoms affect your daily life. Treatment will focus on easing symptoms and does not stop or reverse the natural transition to menopause.

Hormone treatments

Hormonal treatments can help improve symptoms by regulating hormone levels. Options include Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source :

  • Low dose hormonal birth control: Options such as a combined oral contraceptive pill, skin patches, or vaginal rings may help reduce or stop symptoms.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Similar to using low dose hormonal birth control, HRT provides hormones via pills or patches to help reduce menopause symptoms.
  • Topical hormone therapy: This HRT eases dryness that contributes to pain during sex. It uses a steroid hormone medication called prasterone (Intrarosa) and can come as a vaginal ointment, gel, ring, or insert.

Some hormonal treatment options may increase the risks of blood clots, high blood pressure, stroke, and some cancers. However, these risks may be minimal. Talk with a doctor about the possible side effects or risks of treatment.

Other treatments

Other treatment options for menopause symptoms include:

  • Paroxetine (Brisdelle) medication: This selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) is often used to treat depression. However, it is also approved to treat hot flashes without previous mood or anxiety problems.
  • Ospemifene (Osphena) medication: This medication acts like estrogen, helping to improve painful sex.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) products: Some products help alleviate individual symptoms, such as vaginal lubricants or moisturizers for vaginal dryness.
  • Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications: Other medications may help relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety caused by menopause. Talk with a doctor about antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications for you.

What self-care and lifestyle approaches can help with menopause?

Ways to ease menopause symptoms can include:

  • keeping a record or diary of your menstrual cycle, symptoms, and treatment
  • managing stress, such as with meditation or psychotherapy
  • quitting smoking if you smoke
  • improving your sleep quality
  • getting regular physical activity
  • including muscle-building activities, such as weighted pilates, weightlifting, and bodyweight exercises
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • asking your doctor about OTC or prescription medication recommendations for other symptoms, such as migraine, palpitations, insomnia, or joint pain

Diet and nutrition

Hormone fluctuations due to menopause can have many other effects, such as a decrease in bone density and rising cholesterol levels.

Changes in your nutrition can improve many of these effects. For example, getting enough calcium and vitamin D may help prevent Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source bone fractures.

Also, a diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins supports health. Still, nutritional needs during and after menopause can be highly personal. A doctor or a registered dietitian can offer recommendations.

Read more about menopause and diet, including foods to include or limit.

Are there any side effects or complications linked to menopause?

The decrease in estrogen may cause complications during or after menopause, such as Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • osteoporosis
  • an increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • postmenopausal syndrome

Treatments for menopause symptoms may help reduce the risk of complications or decrease their severity.

Summary

Menopause is the transitional phase in which menstruation and fertility stop. This transition can last many years. During this time, menopause may cause a wide range of symptoms, including decreased sexual function, hot flashes, sleep problems, and emotional shifts.

Treatment for menopause symptoms can provide relief and reduce the effects of complications, such as osteoporosis.

A healthcare professional can answer your questions and advise on treatment for menopause symptoms.

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Medical Reviewer: Stacy A. Henigsman, DO
Last Review Date: 2024 Feb 20
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