Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States.
Menopause is a natural biological process. Although it ends fertility, you can stay healthy, vital and sexual. Some women feel relieved because they no longer need to worry about pregnancy.
Even so, the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause may disrupt your sleep, cause hot flashes, lower your energy or — for some women — trigger anxiety or feelings of sadness and loss.
Don't hesitate to seek treatment for symptoms that bother you. Many effective treatments are available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.
In the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), you might experience these signs and symptoms:
It's possible, but very unusual, to menstruate every month right up to your last period. More likely, you'll experience some irregularity in your periods.
If you've skipped a period but aren't sure you've started the menopausal transition, you may want to determine whether you're pregnant. Skipping periods during perimenopause is common and expected. Often, menstrual periods will occur every two to four months during perimenopause, especially one to two years before menopause. Despite irregular periods, pregnancy is possible.
When to see a doctor
Always seek medical advice if you have bleeding from your vagina after menopause.
Menopause can result from:
After menopause, your risk of certain medical conditions increases. Examples include:
Preparing for your appointment
Your first appointment will likely be with either your primary care provider or a gynecologist.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask include:
In addition, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Signs and symptoms of menopause are usually enough to tell most women that they've started the menopausal transition. If you have concerns about irregular periods or hot flashes, talk with your doctor. In some cases further evaluation may be recommended.
Tests typically aren't needed to diagnose menopause. But under certain circumstances, your doctor may recommend blood tests to check your level of:
Treatments and drugs
Menopause requires no medical treatment. Instead, treatments focus on relieving your signs and symptoms and preventing or managing chronic conditions that may occur with aging. Treatments may include:
Before deciding on any form of treatment, talk with your doctor about your options and the risks and benefits involved with each. Review your options yearly, as your needs and treatment options may change.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with menopause are temporary. Take these steps to help reduce or prevent their effects:
Many approaches have been promoted as aids in managing the symptoms of menopause, but few of them have scientific evidence to back up the claims. Some complementary and alternative treatments that have been or are being studied include:
You may have heard of — or even tried — other dietary supplements, such as red clover, kava, dong quai, DHEA, evening primrose oil and wild yam (natural progesterone cream). Scientific evidence on effectiveness is lacking, and some of these products may be harmful.
Talk with your doctor before taking any herbal or dietary supplements for menopausal symptoms. The FDA does not regulate herbal products, and some can be dangerous or interact with other medications you take, putting your health at risk.
Last Updated: 2013-01-24
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