You may think of menopause as the time when your menstrual periods stop permanently. But doctors define menopause as the time after 12 months have passed since your last period. Although your mother or grandmother may have called menopause the change, it isn’t a single event. Instead, it’s a series of changes that can start in your 30s or 40s and last into your 50s or even 60s.
Menopause is a natural biological process, not a medical illness. Although it’s associated with hormonal, physical and psychosocial changes in your life, menopause isn’t the end of your youth or your sexuality. Several generations ago, few women lived beyond menopause. Today, you may spend as much as half of your life after menopause.
Fortunately, much more is known about menopause now than was known when your mother and grandmother experienced it. You can do more to relieve bothersome symptoms, avoid complications and improve your health and vigor during this important phase of your life.
Every woman experiences menopause differently. Even the age at which menopause begins may be unique to you. Some women reach menopause in their 30s or 40s, and some not until their 60s, but menopause most often occurs between the ages of 50 and 51.
Your signs and symptoms are also likely to be very individual. You may breeze through menopause with few signs and symptoms. Or you may experience a number of physical and emotional changes, including:
Menopause begins naturally when your ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone. During your reproductive years, these hormones regulate your monthly cycles of ovulation and menstruation. In your late 30s, the amount of progesterone your body produces diminishes, and the remaining eggs from your ovaries are less likely to be fertilized. Eventually your menstrual periods stop, and you can no longer become pregnant. Because this process takes place over years, menopause is commonly divided into the following two stages:
Menopause is usually a natural process. But certain surgical or medical treatments can bring on menopause earlier than expected. These include:
Usually you don’t need a laboratory test to confirm menopause. The signs and symptoms are enough to tell most women they have begun going through this process. If you have concerns about irregular periods or hot flashes, talk with your doctor. In some cases it may be important to rule out other problems.
Your doctor can check your level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol) with a blood test. As menopause occurs, FSH levels increase, and estradiol levels decrease. If your FSH level is above 30 and your estradiol level is less than 20, you’ve probably gone through menopause. If these levels are checked while you’re still taking birth-control pills, these tests need to be done at the end of your hormone-free week.
Menopause itself requires no medical treatment. Instead, treatments focus on relieving your signs and symptoms and on preventing or lessening chronic conditions that may occur during the postmenopausal years. Treatments include:
Before deciding on any form of treatment, talk with your doctor about your options and the risks and benefits involved in each.
Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with menopause are temporary. Take these steps to help reduce or prevent their effects:
Doctorsolve Healthcare Solution site strives to provide you with timely, accurate information, which is not intended for diagnosis or treatment.