What is Menopause?

Menopause is a natural part of the aging process for women. It is defined by the end of a woman’s monthly menstruation cycle, with the start of menopause being marked by at least 12 months passing without a period.

This is due to the ovaries ending ovulation and switching to a different balance of hormones. The end of ovulation can come at any point between the late 30s and early 60s, but the average age for menopause is around 51.

What are the Symptoms of Menopause?

Whether it is triggered by an early hysterectomy or comes naturally with age, menopause may create many symptoms.

Symptoms include

  • Unusual bleeding and spotting between periods
  • A lack of regular bleeding during your usual menstruation cycle
  • Changes in the amount of vaginal lubrication
  • Reduction in bladder control, leading to minor incontinence
  • Insomnia and waking throughout the night
  • Sudden intense hot flashes, often at night
  • Changes in body shape and composition
  • Mood swings and personality changes
  • Increased or decreased interest in sex

The change in hormones can create some complications. Without enough calcium, osteoporosis may erode the strength of your bones. Heart disease is also more likely to set in for menopausal women.

Together with physical changes, menopause can also indirectly have psychological effects on mood and personality which naturally occur during the aging process and only need to be addressed if become severe and steer toward depression.

Menopause Causes

Menopause is a natural change that affects virtually all women, usually beginning between the ages of 40 and 60 but sometimes much earlier. It is not a disease, though sometimes more difficult symptoms can require treatment. It is caused by the eventual depletion of the ovaries’ oocytes (eggs), which there are only a finite amount of. It is considered to have begun one year after a woman’s final period. Women who smoke cigarettes, are significantly over- or underweight, have had certain types of chemotherapy, or who have had gynecological surgeries such as hysterectomies often experience menopause earlier. Surgery to remove the ovaries will directly trigger menopause, and women in this situation often experience particularly abrupt changes in hormone levels.

Menopause commonly brings symptoms that are unpleasant, though rarely acutely dangerous. These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness or thinning, fatigue, weight gain, and dermatological problems. There can also be psychological symptoms, including depression and sexual dysfunction. The most serious effects can be loss of bone mass, sometimes to the point of osteoporosis, and cardiovascular issues. It was long believed that menopause’s symptoms were a direct result of estrogen depletion, but recently doctors have noted that these changes commonly occur even in women with healthy estrogen levels; research into what causes these symptoms is ongoing.

How is Menopause Treated?

Most women can handle menopause with a healthy diet, regular exercise, some well-tested herbal supplements, and lifestyle changes to adjust to the symptoms.

While hormonal supplementation was once widely recommended, recent studies revealed heart disease risks that make it too dangerous unless there’s a serious need for extra estrogen.

Secondary treatments like vaginal gels and plant-based estrogen supplements can help you handle the symptoms with fewer risks and side effects.

Menopause Prevention

Menopause cannot be prevented; it is a completely natural change occurring in virtually all women. However, a healthy lifestyle can usually manage its unpleasant symptoms and discourage its early onset. Regular exercise, healthy diet, quitting smoking, and moderation with caffeine and alcohol will usually make a significant difference with physical and emotional symptoms. Osteoporosis risk can be mitigated with vitamin D supplements and regular weight-bearing exercise. Serious psychological symptoms can be managed with antidepressant medication and therapy. Hormone replacement therapy was widely prescribed until relatively recently; doctors now concede that its side effects outweigh its benefits for most women.