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What Is Menopause?

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when menstrual periods have stopped for at least 1 year. It is often called the change of life. Menopause is not an illness.

Periods become irregular and stop because ovaries stop producing hormones, and hormone levels change. Hormones are chemicals in the body that control certain body functions. The hormone estrogen in women helps control the menstrual cycle. As a woman ages, the amount of estrogen decreases.

Most women go through menopause at about age 50 or 51. Sometimes menopause happens earlier (early forties), and sometimes later (mid fifties).

What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?

The most common symptoms are hot flashes and end of periods. Hot flashes can be very mild (feeling a little warmth in the face) to very severe (becoming red in the face and sweating excessively). A hot flash only lasts a few minutes. Hot flashes can disturb sleep, so women may feel very tired during the day.

Other symptoms include vaginal dryness, vaginal sensitivity, pain during intercourse, bladder control problems, weight gain, loss of sex drive (libido), and mood swings.

How Is Menopause Diagnosed?

Hot flashes and the end of periods for about 6 months mean that menopause is occurring.

Blood tests for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels can be done to find out whether ovaries are slowing down or no longer working.

How Is Menopause Treated?

Treatment of mild symptoms with drugs is unnecessary.

The most effective treatment for severe symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women with a uterus need estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen relieves symptoms of menopause very well. Progesterone reduces the risk of developing uterine cancer while taking estrogen. Women without a uterus do not take progesterone. Because taking hormones may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer, HRT should be prescribed as needed for each woman and only at the lowest effective dose. Vaginal creams or lubricants may help dryness and pain during intercourse.

During menopause, metabolism slows down, muscle mass decreases, and body fat percentage tends to increase. It becomes more important to eat healthy, low-fat and low-carbohydrate foods and to exercise. Exercise helps burn calories and keep up bone strength and muscle mass. Exercise also increases the body’s metabolism, which helps weight loss.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Menopause:

  • DO follow a healthy diet. Eating and drinking products that contain chemicals called plant estrogens may help. Such foods include fennel, soy, nuts, whole grains, and apples.
  • DO take care of your health. Exercise. Women who have gone through menopause may be more likely to develop certain diseases, including heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • DO get regular checkups.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you don’t feel well while using HRT. Estrogen sometimes has side effects.
  • DO use simple exercises called Kegel exercises to improve bladder control if you have problems with it.
  • DON’T drink beverages containing caffeine.
  • DON’T drink alcohol in excess.
  • DON’T eat hot spicy foods. These may make hot flashes worse.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Women’s Health Resource Center
    Tel: (877) 986-9472
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Tel: (202) 638-5577

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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