Typically occurring around age 50, menopause is diagnosed after a woman has not had a period for one year. It marks the end of a women’s regular menstrual cycles and fertility. Menopause is viewed as a process that can last several years and can be broken down into stages:
- Perimenopause – starts before menopause and includes the year that follows a woman’s last period
- Menopause – begins one year after a woman’s last period
- Postmenopause – the years following menopause, although the line between menopause and postmenopause isn’t always clear
Menopause is a completely natural transition and an expected part of aging. It is marked by very low levels of estrogen and progesterone, the female reproductive hormones that facilitate regular menstruation. Usually, production of these hormones begins to steadily decline in a woman’s 30s. In her 40s, periods may become irregular, and in her early 50s, menopause is likely to occur.
Menopause may also be brought on through medical intervention. For example, a woman who undergoes surgery to remove her ovaries will no longer get a period, have normal estrogen or progesterone levels or be able to get pregnant. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also impact ovarian function and induce menopause.
Menopause affects women in many different ways. The timing, types, duration and intensity of symptoms can vary significantly from person to person, although changes tend to be most obvious during perimenopause.
Common signs and symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes in mood
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight gain
- Night sweats
- Thinning hair
Diagnosing perimenopause or menopause is usually as simple as evaluating a woman’s age, symptoms and the details of her menstruation cycle. However, blood tests may also be performed to measure hormone levels and other indicators of menopause.
A complete range of menopause care is available at Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute. While menopause isn’t a condition that must be “treated,” there are several steps that can be taken to help control disruptive symptoms, preserve sexual function and enhance quality of life. Many women benefit from hormone replacement therapies, as well as medications and products that can help:
- Improve sleep
- Thicken hair
- Increase vaginal lubrication
- Moisturize skin
- Improve mood