What is menopause?
Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period. Menopause is a natural biological process, not a medical illness. Even so, the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause can disrupt your sleep, sap your energy and — at least indirectly — trigger feelings of sadness and loss.
The physical symptoms of menopause are caused by hormonal changes in a woman’s body as they age. Menopause doesn't mean the end of life is near and it will not snuff out your femininity and sexuality. In fact, you may be one of the many women who find it liberating to stop worrying about pregnancy and periods.
Most important, even though menopause is not an illness, you shouldn't hesitate to get treatment if you're having severe symptoms. Many treatments are available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.
Technically, you don't actually "hit" menopause until it's been one year since your final menstrual period. In the United States, that happens about age 51, on average. The signs and symptoms of menopause, however, often appear long before the one-year anniversary of your final period.
- Irregular periods
- Decreased fertility
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Increased abdominal fat
- Thinning hair
- Loss of breast fullness
When to see a doctor
It's important to see your doctor during the years leading up to menopause and the years after menopause for preventive health care as well as care of medical conditions that may occur with aging. If you've skipped a period but aren't sure you've started menopause, you may want to see your doctor to determine whether you're pregnant. He or she may take a medical history, do a pelvic examination and, if appropriate, order a pregnancy test.
Treatments and drugs
Menopause itself requires no medical treatment. Instead, treatments focus on relieving your signs and symptoms and on preventing or lessening chronic conditions that may occur with aging. Treatments include:
- Hormone therapy – Reduces hot flashed
- Low-dose antidepressants – To reduce hot flashes and mood swings
- Gabapentin (Neurontin) – Reduces hot flashes
- Clonidine (Catapres) – Reduces hot flashes
- Bisphosphonates – To treat Osteoporosis
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) – To improve bone density
- Vaginal estrogen – to relieve vaginal dryness
Your provider will work with you to pick the best treatment for your symptoms.