Introduction to Menopause

Agnesian Women's Health
menopause

Written by: Steven Sheppard, DO

When a woman permanently stops having menstrual periods, she has reached the stage of life called menopause. Often called the change of life, this stage signals the end of a woman's ability to have children. Many health care providers actually use the term menopause to refer to the period of time when a woman's hormone levels begin to change. Menopause is said to be complete when menstrual periods have ceased for one continuous year.

The transition phase before menopause is medically referred to as perimenopause or climacteric. During this transition time before menopause, the supply of mature eggs in a woman's ovaries diminishes and ovulation becomes irregular. At the same time, the production of estrogen and progesterone decreases. It is the enormous drop in estrogen levels that causes most of the symptoms commonly associated with menopause.

Symptoms of menopause

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Relaxation of the pelvic muscles
  • Cardiac effects
  • Facial hair growth
Treatment for menopause
  • Hormone therapy
  • Estrogen therapy
  • Non-hormonal treatment
  • Estrogen alternatives
  • Alternative therapies
 

What is perimenopause?

Perimenopause is the transitional time around menopause. Menopause is when a woman’s periods stop. It’s marked by changes in the menstrual cycle, along with other physical and emotional symptoms. This time can last 2 to10 years. During this time, your body:

  • Releases eggs less regularly
  • Produces less estrogen and other hormones
  • Becomes less fertile
  • Has shorter and more irregular menstrual cycles
What causes perimenopause?

Perimenopause is a natural process caused when your ovaries gradually stop working. Ovulation may become erratic and then stop. The menstrual cycle length and flow may become irregular before your final period.

Symptoms are caused by the changing levels of hormones in the body. When estrogen is higher, you may have symptoms like you might have with PMS. When estrogen is low, you may have hot flashes or night sweats. These hormone changes may be mixed with normal cycles.

What are the symptoms of perimenopause?

No two women will experience perimenopause in the same way. These are the most common symptoms:

  • Mood changes
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Night sweats
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Trouble with sleep
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Heavy sweating
  • Having to pee often
  • PMS-like symptoms
The symptoms of perimenopause may look like other conditions. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

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