Menopause is a normal, natural event experienced by all women. The average age for women to experience menopause is 52, and it marks the permanent end of menstruation, ovulation and fertility. Some women are predisposed to early menopause because of family history or lifestyle factors such as smoking. Menopause before the age 40 may be caused by a medical condition or by the surgical removal of both ovaries.
Before menopause occurs, most women will experience perimenopause, which can last 4 – 6 years, and is characterized by intermittent ovulation and fluctuations in hormone production. During this time, women may experience symptoms similar to menopause.
Severity of menopause symptoms varies greatly from woman to woman. Some symptoms are mild and easily tolerated, while others are severe enough to interfere significantly with a woman’s lifestyle and personal relationships.
The decline in the production of ovarian hormones, primarily estrogen, leads to most of the symptoms of menopause, the most common of which are:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Loss of sexual desire and pleasure
Women can help ease menopausal symptoms by eating a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limiting foods high in animal protein and fat, exercising regularly and dressing in layers.
To help relieve symptoms, women also may want to consider a medically managed estrogen and progesterone therapy or botanical therapies like herbal and vitamin supplements, soy products, black cohosh, and ginseng.
Alternative and complementary therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, aromatherapy and relaxation techniques also have helped many women find relief of perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Women should take a menopause health assessment and discuss the results and options with their primary care provider. In addition, women should make sure their age-appropriate screenings are up to date (mammogram, colonoscopy and lipid studies) and consider a bone density test (DXA).
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL ADVICE. PLEASE BE SURE TO SEEK THE ADVICE OF A LICENSED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE ADMINISTERING ANY MEDICAL CARE.