Menopause is the transition period in a woman’s life when the ovaries stop producing eggs, the body decreases the production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, and menstrual activity diminishes and eventually ceases.
Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Menopause is a natural event which normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, beginning, on average, at age 51.
During menopause, ovulation (egg production) stops and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether. Once menopause is complete (called postmenopause), you can no longer become pregnant.
The symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. As the ovaries become less functional, they produce less of these hormones and the body responds accordingly. The specific symptoms you experience and how significant (mild, moderate, or severe) varies from woman to woman.
In some women, menstrual flow comes to a sudden halt. More commonly, however, it tapers off, both in amount and duration of flow. During this time, often called perimenopause, your menstrual periods generally become either more closely or more widely spaced. This irregularity may last for 1 to 3 years before menstruation finally ends completely.
A gradual decrease of estrogen generally allows your body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes. When estrogen drops suddenly, as is seen when the ovaries are removed surgically (called surgical menopause), symptoms can be more severe.
Menopause Symptoms & Signs
The potential symptoms of menopause, which can last from 1 to 3 years, include:
- Hot flashes and skin flushing
- Night sweats
- Mood changes including frequent swings of irritability, depression, and anxiety
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Spotting of blood in between periods
- Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal infections
- Urinary tract infections
In addition, the long-term risks of menopause include:
- Bone loss and eventual osteoporosis
- Changes in cholesterol levels and heart disease