What Is Menopause? Age, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosed, Treatments

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Definition of Menopause

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual period stops*. This period marks the end of a woman’s fertility, and is usually accompanied by symptoms that can adversely affect a woman’s life.

Menopause is a Natural Progression of Every Woman’s Life

Every woman experiences menstrual periods, hence, every woman will experience menopause. Because of the natural progression of life, every woman will eventually cease to have her menstrual period.

Age of Menopause

Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 48 to 55, although it has become quite common to experience menopausal symptoms as early as 35. The age at which a woman experiences menopause is dependent on a wide range of factors, making it difficult to predict when it will occur. These factors include genes, diet, health and treatment history, if the woman is a smoker, and many others.

How Female Hormones Work?

A woman has two main hormones in her body that regulate her menstrual period, prepare the body for pregnancy and manage other functions of the body. These are estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones are at their lowest level soon after a menstrual period. This may lead to lower levels of energy and low libido. They slowly rise in the second week, leading to ovulation in the third week, and then the menstrual period in the fourth week. The cycle then begins again.

Types of Menopause

What Is Menopause

Perimenopause:

Perimenopause is the period of transition just before the onset of menopause. This period of transition lasts on average for four years long, but for some women it can take up to ten years. During this period of transition, the ovaries begin producing* lower estrogen and progesterone levels. This signals the onset of menopausal symptoms, which vary in severity for different women. Only a doctor’s tests, however, will be able to confirm that the symptoms are menopause-related as certain conditions display similar symptoms.

Menopause:

Menopause is a natural transition process that marks the end of fertility and menstruation in women. This transition period for women is caused by hormonal changes, which are more often than not accompanied by symptoms varying in severity. A woman is said to be in menopause when she has gone for 12 months without a menstrual period. At that point in time, she is then said to be in menopause.

Postmenopause:

The period of time immediately following menopause is known as postmenopause. During this time, a woman will have gone for 12 months without a menstrual period. In some cases, women who have had their ovaries surgically removed are also considered post-menopausal. Postmenopause is usually a natural transition that comes after menopause. It may be accompanied by symptoms similar to menopause. Research studies indicate that post-menopausal women experience a gigantic range of symptoms, diseases and quality of health as a direct result of the end of menopause and the associated changes in the body. These symptoms may also be brought about by a woman’s diet, health habits and exercise routine, as well as her environment and genes.

What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Irregular periods
  • Insomnia
  • Lower fertility
  • Urinary problems
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Problems focusing and learning
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Changes in libido (sex drive
  • Hair loss (thinning hair)
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bladder control* problems
  • Loss of breast size

Long-Term Menopause Health Problems

Osteoporosis:

Osteoporosis is a silent disease that is difficult to detect until the sufferer falls and has a fracture. This condition comes about as a direct result of an increase* in the deficiency of bone mass and strength. During menopause, the breakdown of bones increases* such that it outpaces the building up of new bones. This causes a menopausal woman to lose* more bone mass than her body is building up. As a result, she is at risk of painful and often incapacitating fractures.

Heart Disease:

The risk of heart disease increases* as both men and women age. In women, however, this risk is even higher during menopause. Research studies have shown that menopause is considered a risk factor for heart disease. This is because the fluctuating levels of estrogen during menopause adversely affect the regular functions of the heart and metabolism.

Poor Bladder and Bowel Function:

Poor bladder and bowel function can be a long-term effect of menopause. During menopause, a woman may experience bladder leaks at unsuitable times. These leaks are triggered by regular activities like coughing, laughing, bending over suddenly, or sneezing. Doctors believe that lower levels of estrogen cause these urinary symptoms because estrogen is also partly responsible for bladder control* and bowel function. During the postmenopause stage, a woman’s bladder and bowel problems may actually become worse, leading to infections of the urinary tract.

Poor Brain Function (Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease):

Poor brain function begins during or just prior to menopause. This condition includes trouble finding words, difficulty remembering simple things (keys, names, etc.), failing to pay attention to the task at hand, etc. Research studies confirm that this menopausal symptom has a higher prevalence in women who experience severe hot flashes and negative moods. This poor brain function does not necessarily lead to Alzheimer’s disease at a later stage, as shown by a research study done by the Medical Center at the University of Rochester.

Poor Skin Elasticity (Increased Wrinkling):

During menopause, the skin goes through a number of changes. The elasticity of the skin drops significantly because the body makes less* collagen than is needed by the body and there is a substantial amount of fat loss under the skin. Lower levels of estrogen also make the skin dry, which causes the skin to sag in the facial and neck area.

Poor Muscle Power and Tone:

Although testosterone is primarily known as a male hormone, women have much lower levels of it in their bodies. This hormone, together with estrogen, is responsible for muscle power and muscle tone. During menopause, as the female hormones begin to fluctuate, testosterone levels also drop significantly. This leads to a weakening of the muscles and poor muscle tone.

What Causes Menopause?

Menopause is caused by a depletion of female eggs in the ovaries. The body, as it ages, also starts to produce* lower levels of the hormones that it needs in order to maintain a regular menstrual cycle. Menopause then occurs once a woman has gone for 12 months without her menstrual period.

Menopause Produces* many Complications and Changes in your Body

Heart and Blood Vessel (Cardiovascular) Disease:

Besides the effect of lower estrogen levels on the regular functioning of the heart (discussed earlier in this article), menopause also increases* other cardiovascular disease risk factors. For example, a woman in menopause has an increased risk of higher blood pressure, changes in the way body fat is distributed, lower tolerance to glucose and vascular inflammation. These conditions place a menopausal woman at greater risk of having a cardiovascular disease.

Osteoporosis:

During menopause, most women begin to loose bone mass and tissue at approximately 2 to 3% every year. This condition is not painful, but can eventually lead to osteoporosis. When a woman has osteoporosis, she has lost much of her bone mass and is at an increased risk of fracturing her bones, especially the spine, hip and wrist.

Urinary Incontinence:

Urinary problems may occur during menopause, and they are signified by an involuntary loss of urine, especially during physical activities. These activities can include simple acts like sneezing, laughing or standing up – any activity that puts pressure on the abdominal muscles. This urinary incontinence may be accompanied by a painful or burning* sensation while urinating.

Sexual Function:

Changes in sexual function are likely to occur during menopause. These changes are caused by decreased* libido as a result of hormonal shifts in the body. A woman may also experiences these changes as a result of failing to sleep well, night sweats, and severe mood swings.

Weight Gain:

During menopause, some women may experience weight gain as a result of slower metabolism. This weight gain is not only linked to the hormonal shifts in the body, but also to exercise and eating habits. This weight gain is usually not proportionally distributed all over the body, but concentrated around the waistline or the belly area. Even with a change in diet and a regular exercise program, it may still be difficult to lose* all the weight. This condition is known as weight loss* resistance and is brought about by the imbalances in the body’s systems. These imbalances from hormones and adrenaline cause the body to cling to extra weight that it does not need.

How is Menopause Diagnosed?

Most women usually know when they have reached menopause because of the symptoms that they will be experiencing. In certain cases, however, the doctor may recommend blood tests to confirm menopause if the woman is still in her early 30s, or if the doctor suspects some other condition may be causing the symptoms. These blood tests check the estrogen levels (which will be low). They also check follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, which are higher during menopause. The doctor may also check thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, because the menopause-like symptoms may be caused by hypothyroidism.

Menopause Treatments

HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy):

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a medical treatment that is used by menopausal women to relieve menopausal symptoms caused by lower estrogen and progesterone in the body. It includes all medications that are used to replace the female hormones the body is not producing* anymore in the female body. Thus, HRT artificially boosts* hormonal levels in a woman’s body in order to curb the effect of lower levels.

Low-Dose Antidepressants:

Low-dose antidepressants have been prescribed by some doctors to combat hot flashes in menopausal women. Unfortunately, there have been no rigorous research studies to verify that these antidepressant drugs assist with alleviating menopause symptoms. Additionally, these drugs have not been approved by the FDA for this function.

Gabapentin (Neurontin):

Gabapentin is a drug approved for alleviating the symptoms of epilepsy. However, some women have reported a reduced* number and severity of hot flashes as a result of taking gabapentin.

Clonidine (Catapres):

Clonidine is a blood pressure medication that can be used to treat* menopausal symptoms. Unfortunately, there have been no research studies to confirm its effectiveness as a menopausal treatment.

Osteoporosis Treatments:

There are various osteoporosis treatments that a menopausal woman can use once she has established that she has this condition. Hormone therapy (estrogen) is recommended for menopausal and post menopausal women. Vitamin D and calcium supplements are also recommended as treatment for osteoporosis as they help the body rebuild* lost bone mass. Exercises that build the muscles (weight lifting) are also recommended treatments.

Vaginal Estrogen:

Vaginal estrogen is used mainly to combat vaginal dryness, one of the symptoms of menopause. It is in the form of a cream that is inserted into the vagina, and it releases estrogen on a daily basis for three months.

Medications:

A variety of medications are available as a menopause solution. Based on the severity of the various menopausal symptoms, a doctor may prescribe medication to curb a particular symptom. For example, women who have a low bone density as a result of menopause may take medication for osteoporosis.

Which One is Best? – Therapy and Meditation

It is difficult to recommend the best solution for menopause that will be effective in alleviating menopause symptoms for all women. This is because, each solution has its advantages and disadvantages, and also each woman reacts differently to the different treatment options. Therefore, the recommended solution will depend on a woman’s preference. It will also depend on her medical history and how well the solution works for her. Hence, the best treatment therapy or medication is dependent on the woman and her doctor’s recommendation based on her unique situation.

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Author

Expert Author : Lisiana Carter (Consumer Health Digest)

Lisiana Carter has been a freelance health writer for over ten years having written books, blogs and articles. She is the author of a number of websites and teaches people how to enter the freelance writing field.