Menopause


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Definition

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when her periods (menstruation) stop. Most often, it is a natural, normal body change that most often occurs between ages 45 to 55. After menopause, a woman can no longer become pregnant.

Is This Menopause?

Menopause is a natural part of a woman's aging process.

The correct answer is true. Before and during menopause, the ovaries make less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries also stop releasing eggs. After menopause, you can no longer become pregnant.

What is the average age American women reach menopause?

The correct answer is 51. Menopause most often occurs slowly between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can also happen when you’re older or younger. You have reached menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.

Perimenopause happens a few years before menopause.

The correct answer is true. Perimenopause is the start of menopause. It usually starts 4 years before your last period. During this time, you may notice changes in your monthly flow and the length of your cycle. It most often starts between the ages of 40 and 48.

Early menopause is menopause that happens before age ___.

The correct answer is 40. Women who have a family history of early menopause are more likely to have menopause early. You might also have early menopause if you have certain medical conditions, use certain cancer treatments, or have your ovaries removed.

Hot flashes are the most common sign that menopause is starting.

The correct answer is true. A hot flash feels like an intense build-up of body heat. Most often, it lasts 2 to 4 minutes and is most common at night. You also may feel sweaty or have chills after the hot flash. You can reduce hot flashes by avoiding triggers such as hot drinks, spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.

Some women take medicine for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.

The correct answer is true. Hormone therapy with estrogen and perhaps another hormone can reduce hot flashes. Many women can use this treatment safely. If hot flashes are severe, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. If you don’t wish to take hormones, there are many other options available that may be of help.

Mood swings during menopause are just a myth.

The correct answer is false. Mood changes and feeling irritable are real symptoms of menopause. Getting regular exercise, not smoking, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep may help you feel better. If you’re having severe mood swings, talk to your doctor.

Before menopause your periods will get:

The correct answer is C. In the years before menopause your periods will change. But how they change depends on your body. Your bleeding may get heavier or lighter and your cycles may get longer or shorter -- or you may have a mixture of these. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.

Many women have trouble sleeping during menopause.

The correct answer is true. You may have sleep problems because of hot flashes or changes in hormones. Getting regular exercise, keeping a regular schedule, and avoiding caffeine late in the day may help. See your doctor if sleep problems are affecting your life.

Pain during sex can be a sign of menopause.

The correct answer is true. During menopause your body makes less estrogen. This can make your vaginal walls dry and can cause pain and itching during sex. Using lubricants that dissolve in water such as KY Jelly, Replens, and Astroglide can help reduce dryness and pain.

Menopause can make you gain weight.

The correct answer is true. Changes in hormone levels can make you more likely to gain weight. Getting more exercise and reducing the amount of calories you eat can help you keep off extra pounds. Staying at a healthy weight may also help reduce hot flashes.

You should still use birth control even if you are having symptoms of menopause.

The correct answer is true. You can still get pregnant even if you have symptoms of menopause. So you should continue to use birth control until you have not had a period for 12 months. If you have any questions about using birth control while you are going through perimenopause, talk with your doctor.

Alternative Names

Perimenopause; Postmenopause

Causes

During menopause, a woman's ovaries stop releasing eggs. The body produces less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Lower levels of these hormones cause menopause symptoms.

Periods occur less often and eventually stop. Sometimes this happens suddenly. But most of the time, periods slowly stop over time.

Menopause is complete when you have not had a period for 1 year. This is called postmenopause. Surgical menopause takes place when surgical treatments cause a drop in estrogen. This can happen if both of your ovaries are removed.

Menopause can also sometimes be caused by drugs used for chemotherapy or hormone therapy (HT) for breast cancer.

Video: Menopause

Symptoms

Symptoms vary from woman to woman. They may last 5 or more years. Symptoms may be worse for some women than others. Symptoms of surgical menopause can be more severe and start more suddenly.

The first thing you may notice is that periods start to change. They might occur more often or less often. Some women might get their period every 3 weeks before starting to skip periods You may have irregular periods for 1 to 3 years before they stop completely.

Menopause

Menopause

Common symptoms of menopause include:

  • Menstrual periods that occur less often and eventually stop
  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Hot flashes, usually worst during the first 1 to 2 years
  • Night sweats
  • Skin flushing
  • Sleeping problems (insomnia)

Other symptoms of menopause may include:

  • Decreased interest in sex or changes in sexual response
  • Forgetfulness (in some women)
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings, including irritability, depression, and anxiety
  • Urine leakage
  • Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal infections
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

Exams and Tests

Blood and urine tests can be used to look for changes in hormone levels. Test results can help your health care provider determine if you are close to menopause or if you have already gone through menopause. Your provider may need to repeat testing your hormone levels several times to confirm your menopausal status if you have not completely stopped menstruating.

Tests that may be done include:

Your provider will perform a pelvic exam. Decreased estrogen can cause changes in the lining of the vagina.

Bone loss increases during the first few years after your last period. Your provider may order a bone density test to look for bone loss related to osteoporosis. This bone density test is recommended for all women over age 65. This test may be recommended sooner if you are at higher risk for osteoporosis because of your family history or medicines that you take.

Video: Osteoporosis

Treatment

Treatment may include lifestyle changes or HT. Treatment depends on many factors such as:

  • How bad your symptoms are
  • Your overall health
  • Your preferences

HORMONE THERAPY

HT may help if you have severe hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness. HT is treatment with estrogen and, sometimes, progesterone.

Talk to your provider about the benefits and risks of HT. Your provider should be aware of your entire medical and family history before prescribing HT.

Several major studies have questioned the health benefits and risks of HT, including the risk of developing breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.

Current guidelines support the use of HT for the treatment of hot flashes. Specific recommendations:

  • HT may be started in women who have recently entered menopause.
  • HT should not be used in women who started menopause many years ago, except for vaginal estrogen treatments.
  • The medicine should not be used for longer than necessary.
  • Women taking HT should have a low risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, or breast cancer.

To reduce the risks of estrogen therapy, your provider may recommend:

  • A lower dose of estrogen or a different estrogen preparation (for instance, a vaginal cream or skin patch rather than a pill)
  • Frequent and regular physical exams, including breast exams and mammograms
Mammogram

Mammogram

Women who still have a uterus (that is, have not had surgery to remove it for any reason) should take estrogen combined with progesterone to prevent cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer).

ALTERNATIVES TO HORMONE THERAPY

There are other medicines that can help with mood swings, hot flashes, and other symptoms. These include:

  • Antidepressants, including paroxetine (Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin), and fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • A blood pressure medicine called clonidine
  • Gabapentin, a seizure drug that also helps reduce hot flashes

DIET AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Lifestyle steps you can take to reduce menopause symptoms include:

Diet changes:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.
  • Eat soy foods. Soy contains estrogen.
  • Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D in food or supplements.

Exercise and relaxation techniques:

  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Do Kegel exercises every day. They strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis.
  • Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash begins. Try taking 6 breaths a minute.
  • Try yoga, tai chi, or meditation.

Other tips:

  • Dress lightly and in layers.
  • Keep having sex.
  • Use water-based lubricants or a vaginal moisturizer during sex.
  • See an acupuncture specialist.

Possible Complications

Some women have vaginal bleeding after menopause. This is often nothing to worry about. However, you should tell your provider if this occurs. It may be an early sign of other health problems, including cancer.

Decreased estrogen level has been linked to some long-term effects, including:

  • Bone loss and osteoporosis in some women
  • Changes in cholesterol levels and greater risk of heart disease

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • You are spotting blood between periods
  • You have had 12 consecutive months with no period and vaginal bleeding or spotting begins again suddenly (even a small amount of bleeding)

Prevention

Menopause is a natural part of a woman's development. It does not need to be prevented. You can reduce your risk of long-term problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease by taking the following steps:

  • Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease.
  • DO NOT smoke. Cigarette use can cause early menopause.
  • Get regular exercise. Resistance exercises help strengthen your bones and improve your balance.
  • Talk to your provider about medicines that can help stop further bone weakening if you show early signs of bone loss or have a strong family history of osteoporosis.
  • Take calcium and vitamin D.

Images

Menopause
Mammogram

References

ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 141: management of menopausal symptoms. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;123(1):202-216. PMID: 24463691 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24463691.

Brunner RL, Aragaki A, Barnabei V, et al. Menopausal symptom experience before and after stopping estrogen therapy in the Women's Health Initiative randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Menopause. 2010;17(5):946-954. PMID: 20505547 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20505547.

Lobo R. Menopause and care of the mature woman. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 14.

Management of symptomatic vulvovaginal atrophy: 2013 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2013;20(9):888-902. PMID: 23985562 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23985562.

Manson JE, Chlebowski RT, Stefanick ML, et al. Menopausal hormone therapy and health outcomes during the intervention and extended poststopping phases of the Women's Health Initiative randomized trials. JAMA. 2013;310(13):1353-68. PMID: 24084921 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24084921.

Moyer VA; US Preventive Services Task Force. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation to prevent fractures in adults: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(9):691-696. PMID: 23440163 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23440163.

North American Menopause Society. The 2017 hormone therapy position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2017. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 28650892 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28650892.

Skaznik-Wikiel ME, Traub ML, Santoro N. Menopause. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 135.

Review Date: 
8/26/2017
Reviewed By: 
Peter J. Chen, MD, FACOG, Associate Professor of OBGYN at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/02/2018.

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