Menopause is when a woman's menstrual periods stop completely. It signals the end of the ovaries releasing eggs for fertilization. A woman is said to have gone through menopause when her menses have stopped for an entire year. Menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45-55, although it can occur as early as the 30s or as late as the 60s. It can also result from the surgical removal of both ovaries. A woman can still get pregnant during menopause until she has gone at least 12 months without menstruating (a period).
Changes and symptoms include: a change in menstruation (periods may be shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, with more or less time in between); hot flashes and/or night sweats; trouble sleeping; vaginal dryness; mood swings; trouble focusing; and, less commonly, hair loss on the head but increased hair on the face. About 85% of women experiencing menopause will have hot flashes.
All women will experience menopause. Menopause is not considered a disorder and most women do not need treatment for it. However, if symptoms are severe, medications may be used to help alleviate symptoms.
Researchers have estimated that more than 1.3 million women in the United States and 25 million women worldwide experience menopause annually. There are about 470 million postmenopausal women worldwide, a number that is expected to increase to 1.2 billion by the year 2030.
Some women take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve the symptoms associated with menopause. HRT is medication containing one or more female hormones, commonly estrogen plus progestin (synthetic progesterone). HRT may also protect against osteoporosis. However, HRT also has risks. It can increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Certain types of HRT have a higher risk, and each woman's own risks can vary depending upon her health history and lifestyle.
Perimenopause: During perimenopause, the woman may begin to experience menopausal physical and emotional signs and symptoms, such as hot flashes and depression, even though they still menstruate. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for 10 years. Perimenopause ends the first year after menopause, when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period. Periods (menstruation) tend to be irregular during this time and may be shorter or longer or even absent.
Despite a decline in fertility during the perimenopause stage, individuals can still become pregnant. If the individual does not want to become pregnant, they should continue to use some form of birth control until menopause is reached.
Postmenopause is a time when most of the distress of the menopausal changes have faded. Hot flashes may seem milder or less frequent and energy, emotional, and hormonal levels may seem to have stabilized. During postmenopause, women are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis (bone loss) and heart disease, due to the decrease in circulating estrogen. The postmenopausal phase begins when 12 full months have passed since the last menstrual period.
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