Menopause is defined as having no periods for at least 12 months in a row. The average age at the time of menopause is 51 years of age although women can have menopause any time between 40 and 60, and still be considered as being of a normal age for menopause.
Here are some fast facts on menopause and the menopausal years:
1. The cause of menopause. Menopause occurs when the ovaries make less and less of the typical female hormones, such as progesterone and estrogen. This causes initial fluctuations in hormones that gradually decline into not making very much of these hormones at all.
Women who have this happen before the age of 40 are said to be in premature menopause or premature ovarian failure. Menopause can also be caused by chemotherapy or a hysterectomy in which the ovaries have both been removed.
2. The signs of menopause. Many women have some signs of menopause but a few have no symptoms other than the cessation of periods. The primary symptoms of menopause include a change in the menstrual cycle so the periods are too far apart or too close together. Hot flashes are also extremely common as are night sweats.
Women in menopause can have vaginal dryness that can cause pain with intercourse and a decrease in libido. Sleep can be interrupted and some women have mood changes or depressive symptoms that are made worse by family changes, fatigue, or stress. Depression alone is not a symptom of menopause although some women will have depression during these years.
3. The effect of menopause on the bones. Each and every day, the body breaks down bone and puts in healthy bone to take its place. Estrogen can prevent bone loss so that the loss of estrogen during menopause can result in a woman losing more bone that can be replaced. This can result in a weakness and breakability of the bones after menopause. This is known as osteoporosis.
This is the time to have a bone mineral density test to see whether or not you already have a low bone mineral density and to see if you need to have to take medications to slow the loss of bone after menopause. There are many different medications that can successfully do this. The choice of medication depends on how often you want to take the medications, the route of the various medications, and the preference of the doctor.
4. The effect of menopause on heart disease. Following menopause, you are at a greater risk of developing heart disease such as strokes, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular disease. This may be due to the changes in the levels of estrogen in the body or it can be just because you are getting older and have a greater risk of heart disease regardless of your menopausal status.
If you have a family history of heart disease, this only increases the risk that you will develop heart disease in your later years. You should always have your blood pressure evaluated at every doctorâ€™s visit and should have periodic HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels evaluated on a regular basis depending on your doctorâ€™s preference. Have a discussion with your doctor as to what can be done to protect the heart from becoming diseased.
5. Hormone replacement therapy and menopause. During the time of menopause, the doctor may recommend that you take estrogen and possibly progesterone in order to control menopausal symptoms.
Estrogen is used alone for women who have had a hysterectomy in the past, while both estrogen and progesterone are used for women who still have their uterus as estrogen alone can contribute to endometrial cancer and abnormal vaginal bleeding.
6. Forms of hormone replacement therapy. Hormone replacement therapy or HRT can be given in several ways for women who have menopausal symptoms. The most common forms of HRT include pills, estrogen-containing patches that are placed on the skin, vaginal creams, bioidentical hormone creams rubbed into the skin, and vaginal inserts, such as vaginal rings that are impregnated with estrogen for symptoms of vaginal dryness.
7. HRT and Heart Disease Risk. Hormone replacement therapy is excellent for symptoms of menopause but carry risks you should know about. HRT should not be used for the long-lasting prevention of heart attacks and strokes. These medications can increase rather than reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
8. HRT and Colon Cancer. Hormone replacement therapy has been found to decrease the risk of colon or rectal cancer among women who take it for menopausal symptoms. Exactly how this works is not known.
9. Phytoestrogens instead of synthetic estrogens. Phytoestrogens mimic the estrogen found in the body. They are found in certain herbs, legumes, beans, vegetables, and cereals. They act as a week form of estrogen in the body.
Some can also decrease cholesterol levels. Some phytoestrogens include black cohosh, soy, wild yams, and don quai. They are relatively safe and can be used instead of taking traditional hormone therapy, especially if the symptoms are mild. You can eat foods high in phytoestrogens or can take these natural remedies as supplements in capsule form.
10. Menopause and sexual function. Menopause can affect sexual function by causing vaginal dryness and by decreasing a womanâ€™s libido. These can be remedied by using hormone replacement therapy in the vagina or with pills or patches.