What is Menopause?
Menopause is a biological process experienced by women that signals the end of monthly menstruation cycles. Every woman will eventually experience menopause, as it most often occurs naturally when women are in their 40s and 50s. Menopause is diagnosed when a full year has gone by without menstruation and is associated with various physical symptoms.
Menopause is a stage in life, not a disease or a disorder. Most women experience menopause naturally around halfway through their life. Although this is most common, surgery and other factors can cause menopause to begin early.
Natural menopause occurs when estrogen and progesterone become diminished in the female body, as the female body no longer needs them for reproduction at a certain point. According to Yvette Braier from Medical News Today, menopause may occur earlier if a woman smokes or does not have children.
If a person gets a hysterectomy or goes through surgery to remove female reproductive organs, this will bring on menopause early. Symptoms of the menopause are the same symptoms of those experienced by individuals who experience natural menopause.
Some treatments like radiation or chemotherapy can impact the ovaries to age them. In this case, natural menopause is brought on because of this damage.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
In the months leading up to menopause and during menopause, there are a variety of symptoms women may experience, which can vary in severity. Some of these signs and symptoms include:
- Irregular periods, skipping periods
- Vaginal dryness or discomfort
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- Changes in mood
- Weight gain or the development of a slower metabolism
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Loss of breast tissue/fullness
- Breast tenderness
- Build-up of fat around the midsection
- Loss of bladder control
- Lower libido
- Trouble focusing and learning
- Aches and pains, headaches
- Heart palpitations
The symptoms of menopause can be treated using numerous interventions and strategies:
This is one option for treatment, although short-term in nature. It helps balance the body’s hormone levels by providing supplemental/synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone. This can be conducted through creams or patches. Although it relieves symptoms such as hot flashes, there are health risks associated with this form of treatment, like blood clots and strokes.
Other treatment options include using anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications to relieve emotional symptoms and counteract mood swings. In addition, Neurontin is a common medication prescribed to women in menopause to relieve hot flashes.
Creams, pills, or rings can be prescribed by a doctor to relieve vaginal pain related to sexual intercourse or vaginal dryness. There are also over-the-counter gels for vaginal dryness.
Incorporating exercise, managing stress, and sticking to a diet high in nutrients and protein will further assist mood regulation. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and high sugar foods may also be helpful for physical symptoms. The research on menopause conducted by the Cleveland Clinic showed that eating foods rich in plant-based sources of estrogen (such as whole grain or legumes) has been shown to help manage symptoms of menopause.
Tips for Managing Menopause Symptoms
There are a variety of lifestyle tips for managing menopause and its associated symptoms other than managing diet and exercise. Here are some additional suggestions:
- Practicing relaxation and deep breathing exercises
- Quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
- Seeking counseling for anxiety or mood changes
- Establishing good sleeping habits
- Doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
- Talking to friends and family about the experience of menopause
- Exploring new ways of enjoying intimacy with a partner
- Exploring new hobbies.
Frequently Ask Questions
Menopause begins naturally for women in their 40’s or 50’s. According to the Office on Women’s Health, the average age for menopause is 52 in the United States. But menopause can begin earlier than naturally expected, which is the case for only 5% of females. Menopause may occur earlier if a woman smokes or does not have children. In addition, females often experience menopause around the same age as their birth mother.
The process of menstruation ending, and the experience of menopause can last anywhere between 2-8 years for women. Changes in menstruation, including irregularity or alterations in cycles, can occur 1-2 years before menopause. Menopause, as previously mentioned, begins officially when menstruation has not occurred for 12 consistent months.
In terms of LGBTQIA+ and menopause, most information describes the experiences of cisgender women. But menopause can affect anyone born with ovaries, which may identify with gender identifications other than female. Transgender individuals who transition to male will experience menopause whether they retain their ovaries. If ovaries are retained, menopause would be experienced naturally when the ovaries stop producing eggs. If female reproductive organs are removed, early onset menopause may occur as described above. It is important to know that menopause symptoms are the same as those experienced by cisgender women. Supportive and understanding medical professionals are needed even more by these individuals, as there may be additional barriers to treatment and more individualized needs.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
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Brazier , Y. (n.d.). Menopause symptoms and when they often begin. Medical News Today. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155651#treatment
Postmenopause: Signs, symptoms & what to expect. (2022). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21837-postmenopause#symptoms-and-causes
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, October 14). Menopause. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20353397
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021). What is menopause? National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-menopause#:~:text=Menopause%20is%20a%20point%20in,between%20ages%2045%20and%2055.