Natural menopause is the complete cessation of the menstrual cycle, which stops a woman’s reproductive system. It’s marked by the first year (12 consecutive months) in which a woman does not have a monthly consecutive menstrual period caused by the gradual decline of hormones. The menopausal stage, on average, lasts between 4 and 5 years and the average age of menopause tends to be between the ages of 50 and 53. The mean or average age that women in the United States enter menopause is around 51 years old, (midlife women). For some women, menopause may start at an early age, as early as 45 It can also start in women of older age, as late as 55 or older.
Menopause is a natural biological process caused by low levels of the hormone estrogen. As women approach menopausal age, estrogen (primarily estradiol) and progesterone levels begin to fluctuate and decrease. This is caused by the loss of estrogen produced by the sex organs. These fluctuations in hormone levels can cause the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone to undergo a series of spikes and falls that impact estrogen receptors throughout the body.
The menopausal transition affects each woman uniquely and in various ways. The body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily. You may experience changes in your bone or heart health, your body shape and composition, or your physical function. (NIH)
Menopause can also be triggered by a hysterectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries, which produce hormones. If you have surgery to remove your uterus or ovaries and are not taking hormones, you will experience symptoms of menopause immediately.
After menopause, women enter postmenopause. Postmenopausal women are more vulnerable to heart disease and osteoporosis. During this time, it is important to continue to eat a healthy diet, be active, and make sure you get enough calcium for optimal bone health.
Estrogen is used by many parts of a woman’s body. As levels of estrogen decrease, you could have various symptoms. Many women experience mild symptoms that can be treated
- Change in your period. This might be what you notice first. Your periods may no longer be regular. They may be shorter or last longer
- Hot flashes. Many women have hot flashes, which can last for many years after menopause. They may be related to changing estrogen levels. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Your face and neck may become flushed. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow.
- Bladder control. A loss of bladder control is called incontinence. You may have a sudden urge to urinate, or urine may leak during exercise, sneezing, or laughing. The first step in treating incontinence is to see a doctor. Bladder infections also can occur in midlife.
- Sleep. Around midlife, some women start having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Maybe you can’t fall asleep easily, or you wake too early. Night sweats might wake you up.
- Mood changes. You might feel moodier or more irritable around the time of menopause. a history of depression, or feeling tired could be causing these mood changes. Talk with your primary care provider
- Your body seems different. Your waist could get larger. You could lose muscle and gain fat. Your skin could become thinner. You might have memory problems, and your joints and muscles could feel stiff and achy.
- Vaginal health and sexuality. After menopause, the vagina may become drier, which can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable. Read about options for addressing vaginal pain during sex in Sex and Menopause: Treatment for Symptoms.
Treatments and Therapies
- 4 Things to Know about Menopausal Symptoms and Complementary Health Practices (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
- Bioidentical Hormones: Are They Safer? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)Also in Spanish
- Black Cohosh (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
- Hormone Replacement Therapy: MedlinePlus Health Topic (National Library of Medicine). Also in Spanish
- Hot Flashes: What Can I Do? (National Institute on Aging) Also in Spanish
- Menopausal Symptoms: In Depth (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
- Menopause Treatment (Endocrine Society)
- Soy (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
Be careful with over the counter non FDA approved treatments
Be cautious of products that are promoted through: (ref Cleveland clinic)
- Direct mailings.
- Ads disguised as valid news articles.
- Ads in the back of the magazines.
Additional red flags to look for can include:
- Big claims: If products claim to be a “cure” for your condition or give outrageous claims, be cautious.
- Source: Be wary if the product is only offered through one manufacturer or purchased only through a healthcare provider’s office.
- Ingredients: Make sure all of the active ingredients are listed and don’t trust “secret formulas.”
- Testimonials: Remember that only people who are satisfied with a product give testimonials and that they may be getting paid for their endorsement.
The best and safest thing to do is talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new product for your hot flashes.
Discuss your symptoms, family and medical history, and preferences with your doctor.
This blog is for awareness and empowerment only. This is not medical advice. Disclaimer is here.