• We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information

Recommended reading: Wellbeing during menopause

Although different women cope differently with menopause, severe menopause symptoms can greatly affect your wellbeing. But the higher risk of certain diseases after middle age is mainly due to increasing age, not hormonal changes.

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Menopause

Perimenopause; Postmenopause

Last reviewed: August 5, 2013.

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when her periods (menstruation) stop. It is a natural, normal body change that most often occurs between ages 45 - 55. After menopause, a woman can no longer become pregnant.

Causes

During menopause, a woman's ovaries stop making eggs. The body produces less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Lower levels of these hormones cause menopause symptoms.

Periods occur less often and eventually stop. Sometimes this happens suddenly. But most of the time, periods slowly stop over time.

Menopause is complete when you have not had a period for 1 year. This is called postmenopause. Surgical menopause takes place when surgical treatments cause a drop in estrogen. This can happen if your ovaries are removed.

Menopause can also sometimes be caused by drugs used for chemotherapy or hormone therapy for breast cancer.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary from woman to woman and can be worse for some than others.They may last 5 or more years. Symptoms may be worse for some women than others. Symptoms of surgical menopause can be more severe and start more suddenly.

The first thing you may notice is that periods start to change. They might occur more often or less often. Some women might get their period every 3 weeks before starting to skip periods You may have irregular periods for 1 - 3 years before they stop completely.

Menopause

Common symptoms of menopause include:

  • Menstrual periods that occur less often and eventually stop
  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Hot flashes, usually worst during the first 1 - 2 years
  • Night sweats
  • Skin flushing
  • Sleeping problems (insomnia)

Other symptoms of menopause may include:

  • Decreased interest in sex or changes in sexual response
  • Forgetfulness (in some women)
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings -- including irritability, depression, and anxiety
  • Urine leakage
  • Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal infections
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

Exams and Tests

Blood and urine tests can be used to look for changes in hormone levels. Test results can help your doctor determine if you are close to menopause or if you have already gone through menopause.

Tests that may be done include:

Your health care provider will perform a pelvic exam. Decreased estrogen can cause changes in the lining of the vagina.

Bone loss increases during the first few years after your last period. Your doctor may order a bone density test to look for bone loss related to osteoporosis. This bone density test is recommended in all women ages 60 - 65. This test may be recommended sooner if you are at higher risk for osteoporosis because of on your family history or medicines that you take.

Treatment

Treatment may include lifestyle changes or hormone therapy. Treatment depends on many factors such as:

  • How bad your symptoms are
  • Your overall health
  • Your preferences

HORMONE THERAPY

Hormone therapy may help if you have severe hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, or vaginal dryness. Hormone therapy is treatment with estrogen and, sometimes, progesterone.

Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone therapy. Your doctor should be aware of your entire medical and family history before prescribing hormone therapy (HT).

Several major studies have questioned the health benefits and risks of hormone therapy, including the risk of developing breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.

Current guidelines support the use of HT for the treatment of hot flashes. Specific recommendations:

  • HT may be started in women who have recently entered menopause.
  • HT should not be used in women who started menopause many years ago, except for vaginal estrogen treatments.
  • The medicine should not be used for longer than 5 years.
  • Women taking HT should have a low risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, or breast cancer.

To reduce the risks of estrogen therapy, your doctor may recommend:

  • A lower dose of estrogen or a different estrogen preparation (for instance, a vaginal cream or skin patch rather than a pill)
  • Frequent and regular pelvic exams and Pap smears to detect problems as early as possible
  • Frequent and regular physical exams, including breast exams and mammograms
Mammogram

Women who still have a uterus (that is, have not had surgery to remove it for any reason) should take estrogen combined with progesterone to prevent cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer).

ALTERNATIVES TO HORMONE THERAPY

There are other medicines that can help with mood swings, hot flashes, and other symptoms. These include:

DIET AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Lifestyle steps you can take to reduce menopause symptoms include:

Diet changes:

Exercise and relaxation techniques:

  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Do Kegel exercises every day. They strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis.
  • Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on. Try taking six breaths a minute.
  • Try yoga, tai chi, or meditation.

Other tips:

  • Dress lightly and in layers.
  • Keep having sex.
  • Use water-based lubricants or a vaginal moisturizer during sex.
  • See an acupuncture specialist.

Possible Complications

Some women have vaginal bleeding after menopause. This is often nothing to worry about. However, you should tell your health care provider if this occurs. It may be an early sign of other health problems, including cancer.

Decreased estrogen levels have been linked with some long-term effects, including:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You are spotting blood between periods
  • You have had 12 consecutive months with no period and vaginal bleeding or spotting begins again suddenly (even a small amount of bleeding)

Prevention

Menopause is a natural part of a woman's development. It does not need to be prevented. You can reduce your risk of long-term problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease by taking the following steps:

  • Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease.
  • Do NOT smoke. Cigarette use can cause early menopause.
  • Eat a low-fat diet.
  • Get regular exercise. Resistance exercises help strengthen your bones and improve your balance.
  • Talk to your doctor about medicines that can help stop further bone weakening if you show early signs of bone loss or have a strong family history of osteoporosis.
  • Take calcium and vitamin D.

References

  1. The 2012 hormone therapy position statement of the North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2012;19(3):257-271. [PMC free article: PMC3443956] [PubMed: 22367731]
  2. Lobo R. Menopause and care of the mature woman. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 14.
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Gynecologic Practice. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 420, November 2008: hormone therapy and heart disease. Obstet Gynecol. 2008;112:1189-1192. [PubMed: 18978127]
  4. Management of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women: 2010 position statement of the North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2010;17:25-54. [PubMed: 20061894]
  5. Col NF, Fairfield KM, Ewan-Whyte C, Miller H. In the clinic. Menopause. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150:ITC4-1-ITC4-15. [PubMed: 19349628]
  6. Brunner RL, Aragaki A, Barnabei V, et al. Menopausal symptom experience before and after stopping estrogen therapy in the Women's Health Initiative randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Menopause. 2010;17:946-954. [PMC free article: PMC3770143] [PubMed: 20505547]
  7. Freeman EW, et al. Efficacy of escitalopram for hot flashes in healthy postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2011;305:267-274. [PMC free article: PMC3129746] [PubMed: 21245182]

Review Date: 8/5/2013.

Reviewed by: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Relieving menopause symptoms on your ownRelieving menopause symptoms on your own
    Women going through menopause often look for ways to do something themselves to get relief from their symptoms or manage them better. Some make changes to their diet, do sports, or try out yoga or relaxation techniques. Others turn to herbal products or “alternative” approaches, which often promise more than they can deliver.
See all (79) ...

Figures

  • Menopause.
    Mammogram.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...