Menopause represents the end of menstruation. While technically it refers to the final menstrual period, it is not an abrupt event, but a gradual process. Menopause is not a disease that needs to be cured, but a natural life-stage transition. However, women have to make important decisions about managing its symptoms, including the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Many women have irregular periods and other problems of perimenopause for years. It is not easy to predict when menopause begins, although doctors agree it is complete when a woman has not had a period for a full year. Eight out of every 100 women stop menstruating before age 40. At the other end of the spectrum, five out of every 100 continue to have periods until they are almost 60. The average age of menopause is 51.
There is no method to determine when the ovaries will begin to scale back but a woman can get a general idea based on her family history, body type, and lifestyle. Women who began menstruating early will not necessarily stop having periods early. A woman will likely enter menopause at about the same age as her mother.
Causes & symptoms
Once a woman enters puberty, each month her body releases one of the more than 400,000 eggs that are stored in her ovaries, and the lining of the womb (uterus) thickens in anticipation of receiving a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, progesterone levels drop and the uterine lining sheds and bleeds.
By the time a woman reaches her late 30s or 40s, her ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone and release eggs less often. The gradual decline of estrogen causes a wide variety of changes in tissues that respond to estrogen—including the vagina, vulva, uterus, bladder, urethra, breasts, bones, heart, blood vessels, brain, skin, hair, and mucous membranes. Over the long term, the lack of estrogen can make a woman more vulnerable to osteoporosis (which can begin in the 40s) and heart disease.
As the levels of hormones fluctuate, the menstrual cycle begins to change. Some women may have longer periods with heavy flow followed by shorter cycles and very little bleeding. Others will begin to miss periods completely. During this time, a woman also becomes less able to get pregnant.
The most common symptom of menopause is a change in the menstrual cycle, but there are various other symptoms as well, including:
memory or concentration problems
Belinda Rowland, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,