Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of the reproductive period of a woman’s life and is indicated by the cessation of menstrual cycles. It is diagnosed after 12 months (1 year) with no menstrual period. While menopause can happen anytime in a woman’s 40s or 50s, the average age for American women is 51.
Menopause carries several physical symptoms, many of which can be treated but may take a toll on an individual’s energy and emotional wellbeing.
A woman may suspect the approach of menopause on her own as she experiences some menopausal symptoms. A doctor can perform a blood test for estrogen levels to confirm where she is in the menopausal process.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Menopause
Women in both menopause and perimenopause (pre-menopause) can experience several signs and symptoms. In the months or years leading up to menopause, a woman might experience:
- Irregular or missed periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbance
- Changes in libido
- Bladder control problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Racing heart
- Joint and muscle aches
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
Symptoms vary for every woman, with some women experiencing extreme symptoms and others experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.
Causes of Menopause
Menopause is a biological process that stems from the natural process of aging. All women are born with a finite number of eggs which are stored in the ovaries. The ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone which control menstruation and ovulation. Menopause begins with the cessation of menstruation when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month.
Missing periods before menopause is common and expected, and irregularity in period frequency is natural. Often, a woman may miss one menstrual period and then it will return or skip several months and then start monthly cycles again for a few months. Menstrual periods may happen on shorter cycles making them closer in frequency. Despite the predominance of irregular periods prior to menopause, pregnancy is possible. If you have missed a period but do not know where you are in the menopausal transition, consult a doctor for a pregnancy test.
Menopause is considered a normal part of aging after the age of 40, however, some women can go through menopause early, either as a result of surgery, such as hysterectomy, or damage to the ovaries, such as from chemotherapy. When menopause occurs before 40, regardless of the reason, it is called premature menopause.
The Stages of Menopause
Menopause occurs gradually throughout 3 stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause.
As a woman nears her late 30s, she may experience the first stage of menopause, perimenopause. This stage lasts until menopause, typically taking place over several months or years until the ovaries stop releasing eggs altogether. During perimenopause:
- The ovaries gradually make less estrogen
- The drop in estrogen happens quickly in the last year
- A woman may experience menopausal symptoms during this time
The second stage of menopause is menopause itself. This happens when:
- It has been 12 months (1 year) since a woman last had a menstrual period
- The ovaries have ceased releasing eggs
- The ovaries have stopped making most of their estrogen
The last stage of menopause is post menopause:
- The years following menopause
- Menopausal symptoms ease for most women
- The loss of estrogen begins to increase health risks as a woman ages.
When to See A Doctor about Menopause
Arrange and keep regular appointments with your doctor during both perimenopause and menopause for health maintenance and any medical concerns.
If you believe that you may be going through menopause, you should see a doctor who can order a blood test to find out. It can also be helpful to keep track of your periods as they become irregular to help give your doctor as much information as possible and to rule out other issues.
How Advanced Gynecology Can Help: Treatment Options for Menopause
If you are suffering from the symptoms of menopause, perimenopause or post menopause, Advanced Gynecology is here for you.
Our board-certified team of women’s health experts are ready to help you with diagnostic care and a range of treatment options.
We will counsel you about the best options for you and your health.