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A Few Basic Facts About Menopause

Menopause is the transition period in a woman's life when her ovaries stop producing eggs, her body produces less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether.

Menopause is a three-phased transition that includes perimenopause (when your body is beginning the transition); menopause (when you have experienced 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period); and postmenopause (generally 24 to 36 months after your last period, when your symptoms begin to subside). The menopause transition is a natural event that usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55.

A Few Basic Facts About Menopause

Perimenopause is the interval in which a woman's body begins making the natural shift from more-or-less regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation toward permanent infertility, or menopause.

Women start perimenopause at different ages. In your 40s, or even as early as your 30s, your may start noticing the signs. Your periods may become irregular — longer, shorter, heavier or lighter, sometimes more and sometimes less than 28 days apart. You may also experience menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes, sleep problems and vaginal dryness.

Menopause

Once you've gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you've officially left the perimenopause phase and reached menopause. When you have not had a period for over 1 year, you are no longer at risk of becoming pregnant.

Postmenopause

The years following menopause are called postmenopause. During this time, many of the symptoms of menopause ease for most women; you may regain your energy and feel emotionally normal once again. But, as a result of a lower level of estrogen, postmenopausal women are at increased risk for a number of health conditions, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and changes in the vagina and bladder.

Managing Your Menopause Symptoms

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your medical history and overall health managing your symptoms can include hormone therapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes. You should consult with your AOA doctor, who can assess what stage you are at in the menopause transition and help you understand the benefits and risks of different treatments as they relate to you in particular.

Hormone Therapy

There are a lot of pluses and minuses to hormone replacement therapy. Several major studies have questioned the health benefits and risks, including the risk of developing breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. However, current guidelines support the use of HT for the treatment of hot flashes with specific recommendations:

  • HT should not be used in women who started menopause many years ago. An exception is estrogen vaginal creams.
  • The medicine should not be used for longer than 5 years.
  • Women taking HT should have a baseline low risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, or breast cancer.

Lifestyle Tips for Reducing Your Menopausal Symptoms

Many common sense, healthful steps can reduce menopausal symptoms, but do not have the level of scientific evidence to support their efficacy as hormones. These include:

  • Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease.
  • Do NOT smoke. Cigarette use can cause early menopause.
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Dress lightly and in layers
  • Get adequate calcium and vitamin D in food or supplements
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Perform Kegel exercises daily to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis. A Kegel exercise is like pretending that you have to urinate, and then holding it. You relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow.
  • Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on (try taking six breaths per minute)
  • Remain sexually active
  • See an acupuncture specialist
  • Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation
  • Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse
  • If you show early signs of bone loss or have a strong family history of osteoporosis, talk with your AOA doctor about medications that can help stop further weakening.

Learn more about menopause: