Menopause is a natural stage after a person’s final menstrual cycle. The menopause transition usually lasts around 7 years, but symptoms may not be present all the time. For some people, however, they can last much longer.
According to the National Institute on Aging, the transition can take
Menopause is part of sexual maturation and is not a disease or condition, although people may experience many symptoms of menopause.
Doctors define menopause as occurring 1 year after a person’s last period. Every individual experiences menopause differently, and the symptoms may vary in duration.
Though menopause clinically occurs 1 year after the end of a person’s last period, they may begin experiencing symptoms earlier.
Most people in the U.S. experience menopause between the
The onset of menopause can also follow surgery that reduces ovarian function or hormones, such as a hysterectomy, where a surgeon removes the uterus, or surgery or other treatments for cancer. In these circumstances, symptoms may begin rapidly as an adverse effect of these procedures.
The symptoms of menopause usually start when estrogen levels begin to drop.
- Irregular menstruation: As estrogen levels drop, the menstrual cycle may change. A person may miss periods or experience more time between periods. Menstrual flow may also change.
- Vaginal dryness: Decreases in estrogen levels can cause a reduction in vaginal lubrication. As lubrication decreases, the vaginal tissues also become thinner. This can lead to pain during intercourse and vaginal inflammation.
- Decreased fertility: As estrogen levels drop in perimenopause, pregnancy might become more difficult. When a person reaches menopause, their ovaries no longer release eggs, meaning that pregnancy is not possible.
- Weight gain: The metabolism tends to slow during menopause, which may cause sudden weight changes.
- Hot flashes: Fluctuations in hormone levels might lead to hot flashes or an abrupt feeling of heat and flushing. These flashes may be mild, occurring primarily in the upper body, or they may radiate throughout the body.
- Night sweats: Hot flashes during sleep cause night sweats, which may prompt such intense sweating that they wake a person up.
- Sleep disturbances: Menopause often makes it hard to sleep. Many find that sleep disturbances occur more often around the time of menopause. The disturbances may be related to night sweats.
- Low mood: Some experience mood changes during menopause. These may be due to hormonal fluctuations, but life circumstances that tend to occur around menopause can also contribute.
- Attention problems: Many people find they have difficulty concentrating and focusing during menopause and might experience memory lapses.
- Thinning skin and hair: Extreme fluctuations in hormone levels might cause the skin to become thinner. Some people may experience hair loss.
- Urinary frequency and incontinence: Around menopause, people may experience an increase in the frequency of passing urine due to weakening of the pelvic floor muscles.
Menopause does not require medical treatment, as it is not a medical condition, but many seek relief from its uncomfortable symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy
Due to this, doctors
Aside from relieving hot flashes, HRT can help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
Many other treatments are available that alleviate symptoms and prevent issues related to aging.
Other options include:
- Medications to treat hot flashes: Low-dose antidepressants and some anti-seizure medications may help
decreasehot flashes. Antidepressant medications may also assist with the emotional changes that occur during menopause.
- Vaginal estrogen: Estrogen is available for direct application to the vagina in the form of a cream, tablet, or inserted ring. This can help relieve dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
- Medications to prevent osteoporosis: Some doctors prescribe medications to prevent the loss of bone density that can occur during perimenopause and menopause.
When to contact a doctor
At the onset of perimenopause, a person may wish to schedule regular doctor visits for preventive healthcare.
Around perimenopause, doctors may recommend certain health screenings that sometimes include a colonoscopy, mammogram, and blood tests.
An individual should not hesitate to seek a doctor’s care and advice to deal with disruptive menopausal symptoms. If vaginal bleeding occurs after menopause, a person should also seek medical attention.
The risk of some conditions
- Cardiovascular disease: As estrogen levels decline, the risk of heart disease rises.
- Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to weaken, increasing the risk of fractures. For the first years after menopause, people lose bone density very rapidly. This increases the risk of osteoporosis and breaks.
- Certain cancers: The risk of breast and ovarian cancer rises after menopause. The reasons vary but may be due to hormonal changes related to menopause and its treatments or natural aging.
Most people continue to enjoy a healthy life throughout menopause, however. They can further ensure this by maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, exercising, and regularly checking in with a doctor.
Menopause symptoms typically last for around 4 years after a person’s last period. However, the frequency, severity, and duration of symptoms vary.
Common symptoms include hot flashes, low mood, and weight changes.
Menopause symptoms typically resolve independently with time, but some people may seek treatment if the symptoms affect daily life. Hormone replacement therapy is a common treatment option for menopause symptoms but carries the risk of complications.
Going through menopause is a natural occurrence and is not a condition itself. Anyone worrying about menopause or experiencing debilitating symptoms should contact a doctor.