Effects On The Body
Testing For Menopause
Signs And Symptoms
Books On Menopause
|What Is Menopause?
Menopause is popularly known as the 'change of life'. Specifically it refers to the end of ovulation (egg production) and the monthly menstruation bleed. When a woman's periods have stopped for 12 consecutive months she is considered officially in menopause. However the term 'menopause' is also commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a wider set of symptoms which start to occur long before a final period. If a woman is 'menopausal' it means the process has begun and she is undergoing physical and emotional changes. Menopause typically occurs in women between the ages of 45 and 55. If a woman starts menopause before 35 (usually due to a medical condition or as a result of surgery) she is said to be experiencing premature menopause. At the turn of the century a woman's average life expectancy was only 50, so more often than not, menopause was not an issue. Today, the average female life expectancy is 78. With 40 million American women in menopause at any one time, the subject has become a hot topic for medical research and study.
What Are The Stages Of Menopause?
Stage 1: Perimenopause
During perimenopause the ovaries, which are responsible for menstrual cycles, start becoming erratic. Symptoms may not be noticeable or they may manifest as hot flashes, headaches and/or irregular periods. Any woman over 35 years of age is a candidate for perimenopause although more typically it starts around the age of 45. It is rare for a woman to experience normal menstruation cycles and then to suddenly stop at menopause. More commonly changes in the menstrual cycle start occurring 5, 10 or even 15 years before reaching menopause.
Stage 2: Menopause
Menstruation has stopped for 12 consecutive months (see other causes of missed periods). Typically a woman is aged between 45 and 55 when this happens, and the average age in America is 51 years.
Stage 3: Early Postmenopause
The first 5 years after menopause is known as early postmenopause. This is an important time in terms of developing osteoporosis risk factors. It is also typically when a woman starts estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) to prevent long-term problems associated with reduced estrogen levels.
Stage 3: Late Postmenopause
This stage begins 5 years after menopause and continues indefinitely.
What Are The Signs?
The main cause of change which occurs in a woman's body (and mind!) during menopause can be primarily put down to changes in hormone production levels, specifically estrogen and progesterone . A typical common list of menopause symptoms include:
The warm feeling a woman feels rising from chest to head. This is followed by a hot flush of redness in the neck, chest and face. 75 percent of women experience hot flashes during menopause and this rises to 95 percent of women who have had a surgical induced menopause (hysterectomy).
Linked to hot flashes, these often occur during sleep.
Drying and thinning of the vaginal walls which can lead to increased risk of developing urinary tract infections as well as vaginitis.
Reduced Sexual Interest
A low libido in menopause is a common side effect.
Menopause depression and rapid mood swings. Read also about the effects of depression.
Hair And Skin
Hair loss during menopause can be a distressing symptom and varies in severity. If that's not enough common menopause skin problems include adult acne and increased skin sensitivity.
This occurs throughout a woman's life phases, menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. It is a symptom of hormone fluctuations. Consult a doctor however if there is any nipple discharge or lumps (see symptoms of breast cancer). Also, check how to carry out a breast self-examination, which is important as we get older.
These may include increased growth of facial hair, thinning of hair on the head and weight gain. These are also typical symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, which is a condition caused by irregular hormone levels. See also: Weight gain during menopause. If you have questions on this or any other topics, see our womens health questions area.
How Is It Diagnosed?
There is no 'menopause test' as such. However certain tests are used to estimate the likelihood that a woman is going through the change. For example a urine or blood test may be used to measure FSH levels (follicle stimulating hormone). As the ovaries produce less estrogen, the pituitary gland responds by creating more FSH in an effort to kick-start the ovaries. These levels will rise near menopause. It is possible to buy commercial menopause testing kits which are available on line or in most drug stores. They look almost identical to a pregnancy test kit. Other ways to assess menopause include analyzing menstrual patterns, testing vaginal lining tissues and by measuring bone density.
How Is It Treated?
Menopause is a natural cycle of life, and if symptoms do not cause significant problems, a specific 'menopause treatment' may not be needed. Eating a healthy diet (Low GI Plan for example) and exercising regularly will help a woman maintain a healthy body weight and reduce stress levels. The dwindling production of estrogen is the main cause of menopause and the physical changes a woman goes through. Where symptoms interfere with a woman's lifestyle, she may consider HRT. The most commonly prescribed form of HRT treatment in America is ERT, which is used by about 40 percent of postmenopausal women in 2000. HRT/ERT can be administered through pills, or patches absorbed through the skin. Alternatively a gel can be applied to the skin or a cream inserted into the vagina. Hormone therapy has been shown to reduce the long term effects of menopause as long as it is continued to be taken over at least a five year period.