Menopause Overview: Types, Occurrence, Causes, Symptoms & More

Written by Stella Hart
Overview of Menopause

Introduction

Age is a natural process that the body goes through. While it may come with some unpleasant features, it is not avoidable and we all have to face the fact that we become a little older every day.

The days quickly count up and before we know it, we turn an age where health problems start to become more likely to develop and we are not able to perform in certain areas like we used to.

Men and women often suffer from similar problems at an older age, but there are some different factors that need to be considered. When it comes to men, a common problem that develops at an older age is known as andropause, a condition where the male body produces an low amount of testosterone; thus leading to a large variety of health-related issues due to the importance testosterone plays in the male body and its overall well being.

Amongst women, a similar condition occurs, which is known as menopause. Unlike men, however, menopause rather causes estrogen production to reduce in women. Another major difference between these two conditions is the fact that only a percentage of men suffer from andropause as they grow older, but all women are affected by menopause at an older age.

Menopause can be unpleasant for some women, especially when they enter this stage of their lives without being prepared for the symptoms and complications that may come with menopause. For those who do prepare beforehand, become educated about what happens during menopause and equip themselves with the “tools” that can help them manage menopause better, this stage in their life can rather be turned into something that is more pleasant – like a milestone in their lives.

In this post, we will provide our readers with a comprehensive overview of what menopause is. We will take a look at why menopause happens and when it usually happens, the different types of menopause there is, what symptoms to be on the outlook for, how menopause is diagnosed by a doctor, the different stages of menopause and, of course, also look at the most effective methods utilized to treat the symptoms a women experiences during menopause.

What is Menopause and When do Women go through Menopause?

Women go through Menopause

Menopause is not a disease or a health ailment, even though it is often described as a “condition”. It is rather a phase in a woman’s life that signals changes in the woman’s body. It is a completely natural process that every woman goes through at some point in her lives, meaning that it is a condition that is not avoidable.

WebMD[1] reports that menopause is a term used to describe the numerous change the female body goes through when menstruation periods come to an end. Menopause generally signals the end of a woman’s reproductive period.

It is important for all women to understand what happens during menopause. This will provide a better overview of what menopause is and potentially also help a woman understand why she is prone to experience certain symptoms that have been associated with this transitioning phase in a woman’s life.

The female body contains only a certain amount of eggs in the ovaries. In addition to storing these important eggs, the ovaries also play other important roles. Two essential hormones in the female body, named progesterone and estrogen, are produced within a woman’s ovaries.

These hormones play numerous roles in the female body, including the regulation of ovulation and menstruation cycles. Menstruation occurs once every month when eggs are released from the ovaries. When menopause occurs, the ovaries stop releasing eggs once a month; thus causing the woman to stop experiencing menstruation.

Menopause is considered a normal part of aging in the female body; thus this is not a condition that is associated with “any age” as many conditions are, and it is also not considered to be a condition that should be experienced at a particularly young or old age.

Instead, women usually experience menopause between the ages of 48 and 55 in most cases, as reported by eMedicine Health[2]. They also report that the average age at which a woman becomes menopausal, according to recent statistics of menopause in the United States, is 51 years of age.

Sometimes a woman may experience menopause at a significantly younger age. On the other hand, there are also some women who only experience the symptoms of this condition and becomes menopausal at a much older age.

The age of onset tends to vary from one woman to another. There are some risk factors that might make a woman become menopausal at a younger age – we will discuss these particular risk factors later on in this article.

What are the Different Types of Menopause?

Manage Menopause

While menopause has one single classification, being the time when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs; thus causing the woman’s menstruation periods to stop, it is important to note that there are three different types of menopause classified by medical experts.

Knowing about these three types of menopause should be important to all women, as some are provided to a woman as an option and may produce fewer symptoms as compared to other types.

The three different types of menopause that may cause a woman to stop having her periods, according to Southern Cross New Zealand[3], includes:

1. Natural Menopause – As the name suggests, natural menopause refers to a condition where a woman goes through menopause naturally. In such a case, no particular techniques are performed on the woman to speed up the onset of her menopause.
With natural menopause, the woman’s ability to produce the hormones progesterone and estrogen naturally declines with age until the ovaries do not release eggs anymore and do not produce these hormones.

2. Premature Menopause – Also called early menopause, this type of menopause is pretty much self-explanatory in a way. Premature menopause refers to a condition where a woman stops having her periods and her body goes through the changes of menopause before she reaches the age of 40. There are numerous reasons why a woman may experience menopause at an early age.

Certain types of surgeries can cause a woman to stop having her periods. Some diseases, including hypothyroidism and diabetes, have also been linked to premature menopause. Additionally, it has also been found in some medications can also have an effect on the amount of blood that flows to a woman’s ovaries; thus causing her to experience menopause at a younger age.

3. Artificial Menopause – Also called surgical menopause, this particular type of menopause refers to a condition where a woman experiences menopause due to two particular reasons – either she has undergone surgery in which her ovaries were removed, or she had obtained cancer treatment, and the treatment causes the destruction of her ovaries.
In artificial menopause, hormone levels drop suddenly, which means the symptoms that a woman experiences are sometimes much more severe than the symptoms she might experience through natural menopause.

What are the Phases of Menopause?

Phases of Menopause

Artificial menopause causes a woman to experience the symptoms of menopause in a relatively short period of time. The other types of menopause, however, tend to occur gradually over a few years. When menopause happens naturally, then a woman will experience three phases of menopause, each following each other often after a few years.

It is important to know that, even though certain symptoms are associated with each phase of menopause and a particular time period is given for each phase, each woman is unique and will experience menopause in their own way.

The Women’s Health Research Institute[4] explains that the three phases of menopause include before, during and after this transition in a woman’s life. These three stages include:

1. Before Menopause – Prior to menopause, a woman will start to experience various symptoms that signal the oncoming of menopause. This phase is often called perimenopause and often occurs approximately three to five years before the woman becomes menopausal. During perimenopause, hormone levels, including estrogen, gradually starts to decrease.

Menstruation periods also tend to become irregular during this phase of menopause. A woman may also start to experience some symptoms associated with menopause due to the fluctuation in hormone levels. These symptoms may include mood changes, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, night sweats, urinary issues, sex-related issues and an elevated heart rate.

2. During Menopause – A woman is considered to be menopausal when she fails to have a period for a total of 12 months. Note that when the woman is suffering from a health condition that may be interfering with her periods or taking certain types of medication that might also cause her to skip her menstruation cycles for an extended period of time, then she may not necessarily be menopausal yet, as there might be another factor to be blamed for her symptoms.

The transition from perimenopause toward menopause and again to postmenopause usually takes approximately one to three years. Many different symptoms can be experienced during this phase of menopause, which often defers from one woman to another.

3. After Menopause – Once a woman has stopped having her periods for 12 months, then she is considered menopausal. Approximately one year after this phase, the woman is considered to have completely gone through menopause and is now considered to be postmenopausal.

While the woman has already gone through menopause by this phase, it is important to note that symptoms may still be present for many years. The time it takes for a woman to stop having these symptoms vary, but there are some women who never stops experiencing some of these symptoms.

Which are the Most Common Symptoms of Menopause?

Most Common Symptoms of Menopause

There is a significant amount of symptoms that have been linked to the oncoming of menopause. Many of these symptoms have relations to other diseases and health conditions as well, which is why it can be quite confusing for a woman to determine when she is starting to go through menopause.

This is especially a problem amongst women who experience menopause at a younger age – even those over the age of 40, but not yet at the right age associated with menopause, may first consider the symptoms they are experiencing to be caused by a factor other than menopause.

Being educated about menopausal symptoms before the time of this transition in a woman’s life occurs is important. This helps a woman better understand what to expect and also helps them identify signs that they are starting to transition into menopause. This may also help them seek advice from a healthcare provider at an early stage, which may result in early treatment and less severe symptoms.

When menopause is approaching, a common symptom for women to experience is irregularities in their menstruation cycles. There are, however, many other symptoms that can also be caused by menopause, usually due to the fact that the woman’s body is going through hormonal fluctuations and other particular changes.

According to 34 Menopause Symptoms[5], some of the most common symptoms that women should be on the lookout for as they approach the age associated with menopause include:

  • Hot flashes seem to be one of the most common problems that women experience when they are going through menopause. Hot flashes usually present themselves as warm sensations that may spread throughout the entire body. A lot of women also experience redness on their skin when a hot flash approaches. The redness is especially prone to develop on their face, as well as their upper bodies.
  • Night sweats often go hand-in-hand with hot flashes. This condition is also called sleep hyperhidrosis. It is considered a perspiration disorder that occurs while a woman is sleeping. Some women may only experience mild symptoms of night sweats, but this particular symptom can also be severe in some cases.
  • Sexual problems are also not uncommon amongst women going through menopause. A lot of women report experiencing a significant reduction in their libido, which makes them less likely to want to have sex with their partner.
  • Vaginal dryness is another particular problem that occurs during menopause that can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable and even painful in many cases. This, in turn, can further contribute to a reduced libido in the woman who is going through menopause.

  • Fatigue might be one of the most worrisome symptoms that a woman may experience during menopause. With fatigue comes a general week feeling, combined with being tired and suffering from low energy levels. These symptoms may cause a woman to also experience irritability, as well as issues with their attention span.

Other symptoms may include sleep disorders, such as insomnia, thinning hair, concentration problems, memory loss, weight gain, bloating, brittle nails, allergies and an irregular heartbeat. A strong connection also exists between depression and menopause.

What You need to Know about Depression and Menopause?

Depression and Menopause

Several studies have shown that women who are going through menopause have a four times risks of suffering from depression as compared to younger women. This is because most of the changes that take place during menopause lead to unpredictable hormone fluctuations, body image, sexuality, infertility, stress, and aging.

If these continue for an extended period, then the condition progresses to depression. Many people mistake this depression for anxiety, mood swings or low moods, or occasional bouts of sadness. However, menopause depression is a mind that needs medical attention as it can progress to other complications.

Depression can easily be defined as the feeling of extreme sadness that lasts for long, especially two weeks or more and mainly without any specific direct cause. The common indicators of depression include feeling worthless consistently, change in eating or sleeping patterns.

Is Depression a Symptom of Menopause?

Depression is a symptom of menopause as the hormonal changes that take place in women going through menopause lead to emotional changes[6], which result in depression. Besides, the onset of menopause shares emotional changes with depression. Some of the common psychological changes include:

  • Persistent feeling of sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • A lack motivation
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Poor concentration
  • Aggressiveness

If you start experiencing these emotional changes, then this could be caused by the hormonal fluctuations due to menopause. These emotional changes can later progress to depression if you do not seek medical attention[7].

The most common psychological changes include a feeling of sadness and irritability, which are also major menopause depression symptoms.

Does Menopause Cause Depression?

Menopause causes depression as it represents a risky time when women experience hormonal changes. As you go through this stage in life, it might take your body time to get used to the depleting levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones.

This may lead to different menopausal symptoms that mood swings, low mood as well as depression. The condition changes to the body get used to these changes, but only for some women.

Apart from the hormonal changes, a woman going through menopause may also go through other stressing factors in her life that can significantly affect their moods. These include family loss, medical conditions, grief, and children leaving. However, it is essential to understand the trigger of the disease before seeking menopause depression treatment.

Depression During Menopause Info

What are the Symptoms of Menopause Depression?

When women are going through menopause, they are at a higher risk of suffering from depression. However, the reasons are not clear, but scientist it is linked to a family or personal history of depression and how they react to life stressors and role changes that come with this life stage.

According to research, depression is more likely to appear in the period before menopause (perimenopausal), despite the common belief that the life stage leads to depression.

However, there are many symptoms associated[8] with menopause depression in women. These include:

  • Extreme restlessness, irritability or excessive crying
  • Feeling of worthlessness or guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities, including sex
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Consistent feeling of sadness
  • Change in appetite, which could lead to weight loss or gain
  • Persistent symptoms that do not respond to medications such as chronic pain, headaches, and constipation

Despite the number of symptoms associated with the condition, menopause depression can go undiagnosed for most women. This is because most women take these symptoms as a natural part of life stage and therefore ignore them. However, if depression progresses without treatment in older women, it can lead to other severe complications. These include:

  • Decline in bone mineral density, which increases the risk of fractures
  • Heart attack

How to Treat Depression during Menopause?

Depression at any stage of life is treatable, and therefore women should not suffer needlessly. However, there are different ways to handle depression[9] depending on the level and the cause. Some of the common menopause depression treatments include:

Medication

This is the most common and essential treatment option for women who are suffering moderate or severe depression. This is through antidepressant medications[10], but it is necessary to have them from your doctor’s prescription to ensure that you get the right ones for you.

According to some clinical studies, hormone replacement therapy like taking estrogen can help in overcoming menopause depression in the early stages. However, the connection between these has not yet been established, but the therapy can be used in combination with other treatments.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy or talk therapy is also effective in helping women going through menopause manage depression symptoms. The option of treatment features two approaches that specifically effective in treating depression. These include Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Dietary Supplements, Herbal Remedies, and Alternative Medicine

This is another option that is used by some people to treat depression, but there is little scientific evidence that supports it. This is because the alternative treatment options are not regulated and do not feature any information about dosing instructions and ingredients.

It is important to talk to your doctor before taking any herbal or dietary supplements. This is because some remedies or supplements may lead to a severe reaction with antidepressants other medications if they are used together.

However, if you decided to take dietary supplements, then do some research and read some product reviews such as Serenol review to equipped yourself with the information of product ingredients and dosage instructions.

Self-Care

Apart from taking medication or other treatment options, taking proper care of your body can also be effective. This is because it helps in managing the symptoms of menopause depression making you feel better. Some of the common self-care strategies that help in treating depression include:

Exercise

Maintain Fitness

This is the best strategy that helps in boosting your physical health and mood. According to experts, 30 minutes of physical exercise three times a week can greatly help in managing depression symptoms. The activity does not need to be strenuous as even a brisk walk every day can make a big difference.

Support

Women in the midlife have many responsibilities that include taking care of their children and caring for their elderly relatives. Therefore, organizing an excellent support for them is vital in managing early depression symptoms.

Stress Management

Managing stress is another effective strategy that can significantly help in treating depression. This is because depression mainly results from persistent stress. Therefore, stress can aggravate the symptoms of depression further and make it worse.

Enough Sleep

It is vital to ensure that you get enough sleep as a good quality sleep helps in promoting better physical health at any stage in life.

Nutrition

Finally, it is important to research on the right food that you should take and the ones that you should avoid to control the symptoms of depression.

What are the Most Common Treatment Options for Menopause?

When a woman detects the signs of menopause, she is most likely entering the perimenopausal stage of her life. While this might seem like a difficult time in her life, it is important that woman realize there are many ways in which they can improve the symptoms they might experience and enhance their quality-of-life during puberty.

Hormone therapy is probably the most popular type of treatment for menopause. According to Mayo Clinic[11], this option seems to be the most effective way to reduce the symptoms caused by menopause at the moment.

Estrogen can also be provided in the form of a cream to the user, which is applied directly to the vagina. This treatment option is often called vaginal estrogen. Vaginal estrogen treatment is usually provided to women who find that sexual intercourse becomes uncomfortable, often due to vaginal dryness. Certain types of urinary symptoms caused by menopause may also be treated with the use of vaginal estrogen creams and tablets.

There are other options that a woman may be provided with during menopause. Some types of antidepressants, most often the class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are provided in low doses to a woman to assist with reducing the severity of hot flashes and some other problematic areas.

Hot flashes are also sometimes treated with the use of Clonidine, which may also reduce blood pressure levels amongst women experiencing high blood pressure levels as a symptom.

Pills and Capsule

What are the Updates on Hormone Therapy Guidelines Provided by the Menopause Society?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is defined as any form of treatment wherein the patient receives hormones to supplement a lack of naturally occurring hormones in their body. HRT is usually associated with menopause where women mitigate discomfort and a number of symptoms caused by hormonal imbalances.

Although a useful solution for many women whose symptoms affect their quality of life, HRT has been demonized due to potential health risks. For that purpose, the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) frequently issues guidelines to inform menopausal women and health care providers about new regulations and findings on safety and use of HRT. This year’s report is out and we bring you all the details about hormone replacement therapy menopause guidelines.

Why did NAMS Release New Guidelines?

The last time NAMS issued guidelines for HRT was in 2012, but this year the Society published an update about the therapy itself, but also to amplify the need for future research on this subject.

NAMS recruited an advisory panel of clinicians and researchers who are experts in the field of women’s health and menopause. The main purpose of the panel was to review the previous guidelines, evaluate new literature, assess the evidence, and reach the consensus on the use and safety of hormone therapy for menopausal women.

Before the recommendations made by the panel were released to the public, they were reviewed by the NAMS Board of Trustees to ensure that everything in the new guidelines is accurate. The executive director of NAMS, Dr. JoAnn V. Pinkerton, said that hormone therapy is still one of the most controversial topics and a subject of never-ending debates.

The primary objective of the hormone replacement therapy menopause guidelines is to provide evidence-based suggestions to healthcare providers, but also “regular” women can use them to get educated about hormone therapy. The goal here is to ensure that menopausal women get adequate treatment for menopause symptoms they experience.

The newly-published statement also comes with information about effects of HRT on health conditions such as breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Menopausal women are at the higher risk of developing these and many other health conditions, but it is widely believed that hormone therapy only enhances that risk. The new guidelines were published in the Society’s journal Menopause[12].

What are the New Guidelines?

The updated hormone therapy guidelines[13] are very detailed and provide an in-depth analysis of the common use, administration, and safety of this treatment. The first update involves dosing in estrogen and progesterone therapies.

NAMS recommends that clinicians should use the most appropriate, generally the lowest, effective dose of hormone consistent with treatment goals. This allows them to gradually adapt the dose, if necessary, later on, and avoid the risk of side effects. Let’s take a look at the key points of the newly released guidelines.

Administration Routes

Hormone therapy has multiple administration routes, not just one. Patients can receive a prescription for estrogen hormone via oral drugs, sprays, transdermal patches, gels, and vaginal rings. On the other hand, progesterone treatment involves prescriptions for oral drugs, combination patches with estrogen, injectables, vaginal creams and tablets.

FDA-Approved Uses

The main purpose of hormone therapy is to address symptoms of menopause that occur due to hormonal imbalance. According to the hormone replacement therapy menopause guidelines, the treatment can help with the following:

  • Vasomotor Symptoms – Probably the most widely known benefit of hormone therapy is its ability to alleviate vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats
  • Prevention of Bone Loss – Hormone therapy decreases bone loss in menopausal and postmenopausal women, and it also lowers the risk of fractures. Since menopause increases risk of osteoporosis, this is an advantage we can’t ignore
  • Premature Hypoestrogenism – Hormone therapy is approved by FDA to help women with hypogonadism (diminished functional activity of ovaries that leads to lower estrogen production), primary ovarian insufficiency, premature surgical menopause
  • Genitourinary Symptoms – The treatment increases superficial vaginal cells, reduces vaginal pH, and treats symptoms of vaginal atrophy

Improved sleep

Improved Sleep

Hormone therapy in the form of low-dose estrogen or progesterone has the potential to improve chronic insomnia in menopausal women. Ladies who are going through the “change” oftentimes experience sleeping difficulties primarily due to vasomotor symptoms.

Sexual Function in Menopausal Women

Vaginal dryness is a common symptom of menopause. This symptom makes it difficult for women to have regular sexual intercourse due to the fact that lack of lubrication causes pain.

Low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy provides effective treatment of vaginal atrophy and improves sexual problems by increasing blood flow, lubrication, and sensation in vaginal tissue. That being said, current evidence shows that estrogen therapy doesn’t contribute to sexual interest, arousal, and orgasmic response.

Skin, Hair, and Senses

The new guidelines show that hormone therapy improves wound healing by modifying inflammation. Estrogen therapy is strongly associated with increased thickness of epidermis and dermis, higher elastin and collagen content, and improved skin moisture.
Menopausal women who are undergoing estrogen therapy also have fewer wrinkles. That being said, hormone therapy may increase dry eye symptoms, but at the same time, it protects your eyes from cataract. Evidence reveals that hormone therapy could play a role in hearing loss, but it decreases dizziness and improves a woman’s posture.

Joint health

As we age, the risk of arthritis and other conditions that cause joint pain increases. Updated guidelines show that women who take hormone therapy generally report less joint pain and stiffness compared to their counterparts who don’t.

Weight and Metabolic Health

While the panel found that hormone therapy decreases diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, it is not approved for this purpose. Basically, you shouldn’t ask for (and doctor’s can’t prescribe) hormone therapy for diabetes prevention.
The review of evidence also confirmed that hormone therapy has the strong potential to attenuate accumulation of adipose tissue and weight gain, the common occurrence in menopausal women.

Other guidelines

  • Hormone therapy is most effective[14] for addressing vasomotor and genitourinary symptoms
  • Side effects and health risks of hormone therapy vary from one woman to another and they depend on dosage, type of hormone received, administration route, duration of use. The Society calls for individualized approach toward hormone therapy to minimize risks and maximize benefits
  • Hormone therapy is a safe and effective treatment for healthy postmenopausal women younger than 60 years or for those who are within 10 years of menopause onset. The effects of the treatment on cardiovascular disease depend on the time when hormone therapy was initiated in relation to a woman’s age and the time when she entered menopause
  • Women who are younger than 60 or within 10 years of menopause onset, don’t have a higher risk of stroke if using hormone therapy
  • Duration of hormone therapy use is a significant factor in breast cancer risk. Basically, the risk increases with longer use of the treatment
  • Rare are the cases where hormone therapy increases ovarian cancer risks. They are usually associated with longer therapy use
  • Women who use hormone therapy have a reduced risk of colorectal cancer
Duration of Hormone Therapy

Conclusion

Menopause is a phase in a woman’s life that is not preventable, but something that every woman has to go through. This phase marks the time when a woman will not continue having her monthly menstruation cycles.

For some women, going through menopause may be a depressing time, but for others, it can be a time in their lives when they can embrace life and make some important changes to get ready for the next part of their lifetime.

While the symptoms caused by menopause can be quite inconvenient and even disrupting in some cases, it is important that women realize they are able to continue enjoying their life without having to worry about the symptoms related to this phase.

Managing the symptoms that are associated with menopause is possible through numerous methods, and knowing about these methods before menopause occurs will help a woman be ready for this transition in her life and take it on without allowing the symptoms to take over her life.

In this post, we talked about what menopause is and what happens during menopause, we looked at the symptoms women should look out for when menopause is approaching, what causes menopause to happen and we discussed the different types of menopause that women should know about.

Furthermore, we have also taken a look at how menopause is linked to depression, and we explained how the new guidelines set by the Menopause Society in the United States would be changing the way women consult hormone replacement therapy to help them cope with the many unpleasant symptoms that can come with menopause.

Image Credits
Feature image: Shutterstock.com
In-Post Image: Shutterstock.com & 34-menopause-symptoms.com
Author

Contributor : Stella Hart ()

This Article Has Been Published on April 26, 2018 and Last Modified on December 7, 2018

Stella Hart is a freelance web content writer who independently researches health and beauty products to educate members of the public about their claims. You can connect with her on Linkedin.

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