Menopause (patient information)
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Menopause On the Web
Editor-in-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S.,M.D.  Phone:617-632-7753; Associate Editor(s)-In-Chief: Lakshmi Gopalakrishnan, M.B.B.S.; Rahmah Al-Edresi, M.D. Synonyms and Keywords: Perimenopause; Postmenopause,Climacteric, Midlife crisis, Premenopause, Change of life.
Menopause is a natural cessation of the menstrual cycle because of deficiency production of estrogen and progesterone hormones in women."It occurs at an average age of 52 years, but the age of natural menopause can vary widely from 40 to 58 years". it is considered a natural end to fertility in women, and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether.
What are the symptoms of Menopause?
- In some women, menstrual flow comes to a sudden halt. More commonly, it slowly stops over time. During this time, the menstrual periods generally become either more closely or more widely spaced. This irregularity may last for 1 - 3 years before menstruation finally ends completely. Before this, the cycle length may shorten to as little as every 3 weeks.
- Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Other symptoms of menopause may include:
- Decreased interest in sex, possibly decreased response to sexual stimulation
- Forgetfulness (in some women)
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Mood swings including irritability, depression, and anxiety
- Urine leakage
- Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
- Vaginal infections
- Joint aches( joint pains)
- Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Pain, discomfort, or burning sensation when passing urine.
- Increased frequency of urination
- muscle pain
- Back pain
- Loss of concentration
What causes Menopause?
- Menopause is a natural event that normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
- Once menopause is complete (called postmenopause) and you have not had a period for 1 year, you are no longer at risk of becoming pregnant.
- The symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. The ovaries make less of these hormones over time. The specific symptoms and how significant (mild, moderate, or severe) they vary from woman to woman.
- A gradual decrease of estrogen generally allows your body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes. Hot flashes and sweats are at their worst for the first 1 - 2 years after the last period. Menopause symptoms may last 5 or more years.
- Estrogen levels may drop suddenly after some medical treatments, as is seen when the ovaries are removed surgically (called surgical menopause). Chemotherapy and anti-estrogen treatment for breast cancer are other examples. Symptoms can be more severe and start more suddenly in these circumstances.
- As a result of the fall in hormone levels, changes occur in the entire female reproductive system. The vaginal walls become less elastic and thinner. The vagina becomes shorter(vaginal atrophy). Lubricating secretions from the vagina become watery. The outside genital tissue thins. This is called atrophy of the labia.
When to seek urgent medical care?
Call your health care provider if:
- You are spotting blood between periods
- You have had 12 consecutive months with no period and suddenly vaginal bleeding or spotting begins again, even if it is a very small amount
- Blood and urine tests can be used to measure changes in hormone levels that may signal when a woman is close to menopause or has already gone through menopause. Examples of these tests include:
- A pelvic exam may indicate changes in the vaginal lining caused by declining estrogen levels.
- The doctor may perform a bone density test to screen for low bone density levels that occur with osteoporosis. The rate of bone loss increases during the first few years after the last period.
- Treatment with hormones may be helpful if you have severe symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness.
- Discuss the decision to take hormones thoroughly with your doctor, weighing your risks against any possible benefits. Learn about the many options currently available to you that do not involve taking hormones. Every woman is different. Your doctor should be aware of your entire medical history before prescribing hormone therapy (HT).
- If you have a uterus and decide to take estrogen, you must also take progesterone to prevent endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus). If you do not have a uterus, progesterone is not necessary.
- Several major studies have questioned the health benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy, including the risk of developing breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.
- Current guidelines support the use of HT for the treatment of hot flashes. Specific recommendations:
- HT may be started in women who have recently entered menopause.
- HT should not be used in women who started menopause many years ago, except for. An exception is estrogen vaginal creams.
- The medicine should not be used for longer than 5 years.
- Women taking HT should have a baseline low risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, or breast cancer.
- To reduce the risks of estrogen therapy and still gain the benefits of the treatment, your doctor may recommend:
ALTERNATIVES TO HT:
- There are some medications available to help with mood swings, hot flashes, and other symptoms.
- These include low doses of antidepressants such as paroxetine (Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin), and fluoxetine (Prozac), or clonidine, which is normally used to control high blood pressure.
- Gabapentin is also effective for reducing hot flashes.
- The good news is that you can take many steps to reduce your symptoms without taking hormones:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
- Dress lightly and in layers
- Eat soy foods
- Get adequate calcium and vitamin D in food or supplements
- Get plenty of exercise
- Perform Kegel exercises daily to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis
- Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on (try taking six breaths per minute)
- Remain sexually active
- Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation
- Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse
Where to find medical care for Menopause?
- Postmenopausal bleeding may occur. This bleeding is often nothing to worry about. However, your health care provider should always check any postmenopausal bleeding, because it may be an early sign of other problems, including cancer.
- Decreased estrogen levels are also associated with the following long-term effects:
- Bone loss and eventual osteoporosis in some women
- Changes in cholesterol levels and greater risk of heart disease
- Menopause is a natural and expected part of a woman's development and does not need to be prevented. However, there are ways to reduce or eliminate some of the symptoms of menopause.
- You can reduce your risk of long-term problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease by taking the following steps:
- Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease.
- Do NOT smoke. Cigarette use can cause early menopause.
- Eat a low-fat diet.
- Get regular exercise. Resistance exercises help strengthen your bones and improve your balance.
- If you show early signs of bone loss or have a strong family history of osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about medications that can help stop further weakening.
- Take calcium and vitamin D.