Menopause is a normal stage in a woman’s life when her menstrual period stops. Natural menopause usually starts with a period of transition called perimenopause. The physical changes associated with menopause begin during perimenopause, a phase which can last up to eight years.
Some women experience menopause due to medical treatment or surgery. This induced menopause can be more intense but has many of the same symptoms as natural menopause.
Once a woman has gone one year without having periods, she has gone through menopause and is considered postmenopausal. The average age for this is 51.
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Menopausal symptoms can start in perimenopause and continue after menopause.
Menopause involves changes in multiple hormones, including estrogen and progesterone.
Because these hormones are involved in many processes throughout your body, the signs and symptoms of menopause vary widely from person to person. They may include:
- Hot flashes
- Having an irregular period or skipping one or more periods
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Vaginal dryness and painful sex
- Decreased sexual desire or response
- Osteoporosis (thinning bones)
A woman’s two main sex hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Levels of these hormones rise and fall each month, triggering ovulation and menstruation.
As a woman ages, the monthly rise and fall of hormones become less regular and predictable. Eventually, hormones settle at low levels, and fertility drops. Ovulation and menstruation stop, and menopause occurs.
While menopause is a natural process, some types of menopause may warrant medical attention. For example:
- Premature menopause is menopause that starts in women who are younger than 40 years old. If you are younger than 40 and miss more than three periods or have other symptoms of menopause, you should see a doctor to rule out other conditions. For example, Turner syndrome, some autoimmune diseases, and thyroid issues can all lead to premature menopause.
- Early menopause is menopause beginning between the ages of 40 and 45. As with premature menopause, if you believe you are entering menopause and are under the age of 45, consult with your doctor. If menopause does start before the age of 45, it can also increase your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis.
- Induced menopause is menopause brought about by an underlying condition or a medical intervention. For example, some cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation can cause menopause, as can hormonal therapies and surgeries to remove the uterus or ovaries.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.