Menopause occurs when a woman naturally stops having menstrual periods. The ovaries stop making estrogen which is the hormone that helps control the menstrual cycle. Once a women has gone through menopause, her reproductive years are over.
When does menopause occur?
The average age for a women to go through menopause is 51 years old. Menopause has been reached when a women has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. In the years leading up to this the amount of estrogen the ovaries produce begins to vary. The years before menopause are called perimenopause. During this time cycles may change in length, the heaviness of flow may change, and periods may be skipped. These changes are normal for women in perimenopause but should still be reported to your gynecologist to ensure you are not experience abnormal bleeding for another reason.
What signs and symptoms occur during perimenopause?
Aside from menstrual cycle changes, a women may experience other symptoms ranging from mild to severe or she may not experience symptoms at all. Hot flashes are a common symptom involving a sudden rush of heat to the upper body and face that can last seconds to several minutes. Vaginal and urinary tract changes may occur as estrogen levels decrease, causing vaginal dryness and loss of elasticity. The urethra may also be affected by dryness and inflammation. Some women may also experience sleep problems with insomnia or night sweats.
Besides change in menstrual cycle, what other changes occur?
Changes in estrogen production affects more than just a woman’s menstrual cycle. Estrogen provides a natural defense against heart attacks and stroke so when estrogen levels are reduced, the risk for these issues is increased. Bone loss also occurs rapidly during the first several years after menopause due to decreased estrogen levels. Excessive bone loss can lead to osteoporosis.
What treatments can help relieve perimenopause and menopause symptoms?
Hormone therapy through taking estrogen may help alleviate menopause symptoms. Estrogen may be used by itself or in combination with progestin depending on if the woman has had her uterus removed. Estrogen may be administered through pills, skin patches, and topical gels or sprays. If progestin is also being used it can be administered along with estrogen or separately. Hormone therapy can be a solution for women experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Using systemic estrogen may also protect against bone loss that occurs during menopause. Women who only experience vaginal dryness may be prescribed a form of estrogen that can be used locally in the vagina.