Menopause
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Menopause

Menopause is a condition that all women experience. It is characterized by the end of a woman's periods and many other physical and hormonal changes. This is a condition that occurs naturally. Most women begin to experience menopause between 45 and 55 years old.

Causes, incidence and risk factors

The onset of menopause begins when the ovaries no longer produce eggs. Apart from no longer producing eggs, women also produce less on a hormonal level. Women experiencing menopause produce lower quantities of estrogen and progesterone. Decreases in these vital hormones means that the frequency of periods will decrease gradually. Although a gradual decline is the most common form of menopause, some women report more of a sudden and abrupt ending. The end of menopause is characterized by not having a period for one year. This one-year mark is considered to be post-menopause. Postmenopausal women can no longer get pregnant. Another form of menopause is called surgical menopause. Surgical menopause is usually linked to an external source. It is characterized by a reduced level of estrogen. A common cause of surgical menopause is the removal of a woman's ovaries.

Symptoms

There are no universal symptoms of menopause because every woman will experience menopause differently. Whatever the symptoms, they will usually last five or more years. The severity of the symptoms will also vary. An early sign of menopause that many women report is that the periods begin to change. The flow can fluctuate, the length of time that periods last changes and the frequency of the periods become less regular. While every woman experiences menopause differently, these are some of the most common symptoms that women report.

  • Many women report that their periods occur less. Apart from occurring less frequently, many report that their periods stop.
  • Many women also experience rapid heart palpitations. Women describe this as severe heart pounding or heart racing.
  • Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms. Most women have the worst cases of hot flashes in the first couple of years. Many women also report that their hot flashes occur at night and interrupt their sleep. Along with hot flashes, night sweats are another common symptom.
  • Women experience less sexual stimulation and sensitivity. A decreased sexual sensitivity means that their interest in sex also decreases. Vaginal dryness is another contributing factor to a decreased interest in sex. Vaginal dryness makes intercourse painful and less desirable. Many women also describe vaginal infections.

Treatments

Hormone therapy is one of the most common treatments. Doctors usually treat menopause with the estrogen hormone. Apart from hormone therapy, many women opt for alternative treatments, e.g. antidepressants, clonidine and gabapentin.

Taking medications is not the only way to treat menopause symptoms. A large part of a woman's experience with menopause relates to diet, lifestyle and exercise habits. For instance, women experiencing menopause should eat more soy foods because soy products contain estrogen. While exercise is always important, women experiencing menopause should also do Kegel exercises to strengthen vaginal muscles.