Menopause 101

Menopause is a uniquely female biological change that occurs when a woman's fertile period comes to an end. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for one year and typically occurs when a woman reaches her mid-forties to early 50s. The average age is 51. However, the bodily changes and physical symptoms can start several years prior to this event.

The most common symptomsi include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Hair on head thinning
  • Increase in facial hair
  • Mental focus issues and forgetfulness
  • Weight gain in abdominal area
  • Achy joints and muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Periods that are lighter or heavier than normal
  • Dry skin

Why does menopause occur?

When a female is born, she is carrying the total number of eggs she will have for the rest of her life stored in her ovaries. From her first period throughout her adult life, a woman releases one or more of these eggs each month. Ovaries also make the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which are what controls a woman's periods and ovulation.

Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop releasing eggs on a monthly basis, and a woman is in menopause when she has not had a period in 12 consecutive months.

What is the difference between perimenopause and menopause?

Pre-menopausal symptoms and physical changes can begin several years before menopause occurs. This is called perimenopause.

Peri-menopausal symptoms can include a change in the type or duration of the period, including having both shorter or longer periods. During this time, a woman could have some of the typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings. Weight gain can also occur around the abdomen, as the drop in the hormone estrogen causes fat to be re-distributed from the hips and thighs to the abdominal area. All menopausal symptoms leading up to menopause can be part of peri-menopausal i.

How can I treat menopause or peri-menopausal symptoms?

There are many solutions that exist for treating menopausal symptoms, including hormone therapy and non-hormonal prescription drugs. Hormone therapy adds back consistent levels of estrogen and progesterone within the body, which can help reduce hot flashes. Some natural remedies are also common, like soy and black cohosh, that will raise estrogen levels in the body.

Because of the distinct possibility of increased weight gain in and around the abdomen due to menopause, positive changes in exercise habits to include meditation, yoga, cardio, weight lifting and more are highly suggested. A doctor should be consulted before trying any prescription-oriented therapies or an exercise program.

The following list of menopause symptoms and treatments are the most common among women over 40 years oldi:

  • Hot flashes: The most common menopause symptom is the hot flash. If hot flashes happen during the night, they are referred to as night sweats. Hot flashes are believed to be caused by decreased estrogen levels and their effect on the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus functions as our thermostat, and is sensitive to hormone fluctuations.
  • They can range from a few minutes of being uncomfortable to extreme sweating situations many times a day. They can last for years, happening prior to menopause and for a time afterward, too.

    There are some popular natural remedies that are available to women who experience hot flashes that interfere with daily life. Black cohosh is a flowering plant native to the United States and Canada whose roots have been linked to healing properties for a variety of ailments, but it's most common use is to alleviate hot flashes. It is available as an over the counter supplement; you should discuss any supplement use with your doctor before starting to take it.
  • Sleeplessness: Night sweats, mentioned above, can give rise to a restless night's sleepii. If lack of a good night's sleep is getting you down, try a remedy for hot flashes or a natural sleep aid like melatonin.
  • Vaginal dryness: The decrease in hormonal production in the body may result in vaginal dryness, which can often cause painful intercourse. Women may want to explore personal lubricant options to alleviate the dryness.
  • Irregular periods: During perimenopause, some women may experience fluctuating periods. You could experience a heavier or lighter flow than normal. This is completely natural. It is only when 12 consecutive months without a period has happened is menopause medically said to have occurred.
  • Weight gain: As the hormones estrogen and progesterone become less available to help regulate weight, weight gain and redistribution of fat previously in the hips and thighs can occur. Eating a balanced diet and regular exercise can help to combat this unwelcome side effect.
  • Mood swings: Hormones play a large part in a person's mood and overall well-being. The lack of estrogen and progesterone can cause drastic mood swings and depression. Medical therapy can help, but consult with a doctor to find the best course of action for you.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

iContent produced and distributed by MedlinePlus. 2016. October 21.
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iiInformation provided by, 2017.