Menopause refers to the time when a woman’s menstrual period stops. Medically, a woman is said to have experienced menopause when no period has occurred for one year. Menopause occurs, on average, at age 51. The time leading up to menopause, when a woman may experience her period only occasionally, is known as perimenopause, and the time after menopause is called postmenopause.
Menopause is a normal part of life, but the changes that it brings can lead to a number of symptoms and complications in the postmenopausal years.
Symptoms of Menopause
Along with the end of menstrual periods, a number of other things can occur at the time of menopause. Changes in estrogen levels can lead to hot flashes, a hot feeling in the upper part of the body, as well as mood changes and feelings of dryness in the vagina. Women may also have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.
In the years that follow, the changes in estrogen levels can lead to other complications. Women may find that they're losing muscle or that their skin gets thinner. Urinary tract infections may become more frequent, and bladder function may decline. Osteoporosis, or weakened bones, becomes a greater risk, as does heart disease.
Though these changes can be frustrating, women can do a number of things to maintain their health in the menopausal and postmenopausal years: eating a healthy diet, not smoking, exercising regularly and talking to their doctor about vitamin supplements and medications. Although menopausal hormone therapy to replace some of the hormones lost during menopause can help with symptoms of menopause, it does pose risks, so women should have a conversation with their doctor about this option.
SOURCES: Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. National Institute on Aging