Menopause signals the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. Once one has gone a full year without having a period, most doctors will diagnose her to be in a menopausal state. The average age for a woman to go through menopause in the United States is 51, but it can happen in your 40s or later 50s as well.
Though menopause is a natural process that every woman goes through, the physical symptoms can often mimic that of a health issue, and will sometimes require treatment. There are many treatments available that can help through this stage of life.
Signs and Symptoms
Premenopausal and menopausal symptoms include:
Changes in mood
Thinning hair and
Loss of breast fullness
It’s important to note that symptoms are different for every woman, and will vary in occurrence as well as in severity. For women that do need treatment, there are a variety of options available, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to hormonal therapy.
Symptoms during the months or years leading up to menopause (known as perimenopause) also vary widely from woman to woman. It is common and expected for you to skip periods, sometimes for several months at a time before your cycle resumes. The cycle of your period itself may also become shorter.
During this time, it’s crucial to note that you can still become pregnant. If you skip a period but aren’t sure you’ve entered menopause, it’s important to consider a pregnancy test.
Causes of Menopause
Menopause is caused by a natural decline of reproductive hormones. As you enter your late 30s, your ovaries produce less progesterone and estrogen, the primary regulators of menstruation. Along with this, your fertility deciles. Once you reach your 40s, you might see your period changing in flow, frequency, and length. Eventually, your ovaries will stop producing eggs completely.
There are times where a woman may enter menopause or experience menopausal symptoms regardless of her age. Common reasons for this include:
Hysterectomy – This is the surgical removal of the uterus. Though the ovaries are generally kept intact and will still produce eggs, estrogen, and progesterone, a woman will stop having periods. In hysterectomies where both the uterus and ovaries are removed, menopause will be immediate. In these cases, the menopausal symptoms tend to be immediate and rather severe.
Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy – Some treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can induce menopause. In many cases, though women may suffer hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms after treatment, their menstrual cycle and fertility may return with time.
Primary ovarian insufficiency - A very small number of women (roughly 1%) experience menopause before reaching the age of 40. This commonly stems from a condition known as primary ovarian insufficiency. This means that the ovaries do not produce enough reproductive hormones for one reason or another. Hormone therapy is usually prescribed.
Preventative Menopausal Health
It’s highly recommended that you keep up your regular visits with Dr. Leveno both before and after menopause. This will help Dr. Leveno identify any potential complications or concerns and give our office time to schedule preventative care. Such care might include health screenings like a mammogram, thyroid test, or colonoscopy, depending on your medical history and the results of your pelvic and breast exams.
Once a woman enters menopause, her potential for acquiring conditions increases. These include:
Cardiovascular Disease – When estrogen levels decline, a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease can increase. As heart disease is the leading cause of death in both women and men, it’s a good idea to adopt healthy eating habits and a regular exercise routine as you approach the age of menopause.
Osteoporosis – Bone density can degrade at a rapid rate after menopause, causing your bones to become weak and brittle. Fractures of the spine, hip, and wrists become increasingly common in postmenopausal women.
Urinary Incontinence – Menopause causes the tissues of the urethra and vagina to lose some of their elasticity. This can cause urinary issues like sudden urges to urinate and a loss of urine when coughing, sneezing, or laughing. This also leads to an increase in the potential for urinary tract infections. Treatments to abate these symptoms include kegel exercises and hormone therapy.
Sexual Dysfunction – The lack of hormones can lead to a number of sex-related issues, including a decreased production of moisture and a loss of vaginal elasticity. In some cases, a woman may lose some sensation or feel discomfort during intercourse, resulting in reduced libido. In most cases, water-based lubricants can be of some help. In other cases, vaginal estrogen treatment will be prescribed.
Weight Gain – Many women put on weight during and after menopause due to their slowing metabolism. To combat this, some choose to implement a diet and or exercise plan upon reaching their late 40s.
If you are experiencing these symptoms or are concerned that you may be experiencing menopause give our office a call and we would be happy to schedule you an appointment today!