What is Menopause?

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pic2Menopause is the name for the time when a woman experiences the transition from having periods to no longer having them. It is a natural change that happens to women as they age.

There are three stages of menopause:

  1. Peri-menopause – the transition to menopause
  2. Menopause – the final menstrual period
  3. Post-menopause – from 12 months after the final menstrual period. 1

Women’s ovaries produce hormones, including estrogen, which control periods. As a woman ages, hormone production gradually reduces along with the production of estrogen. Hormone production reduces more quickly after women turn 40. By age 47, most women will be experiencing the transition known as perimenopause. During this time, symptoms can occur and persist for many years before actual menopause.

benchIn countries such as New Zealand, women typically menstruate for the last time at around 51 years of age. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers. Most women notice some menstrual changes – such as periods occurring closer together, skipped menstrual periods, and occasional heavy periods before menstruation ceases.

There is great variation in how different women experience menopause. Hot flushes and night sweats are common and may result in chronic sleep deprivation. Mood changes aren’t as well understood, but some women report an obvious change in mood. In addition, women may experience vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and urinary symptoms. Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) can help relieve the physical symptoms in the meantime. Non-hormonal treatment options also are available. Talk to your health care provider to see what approach is right for you.

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Reference 1; Weismiller, DG; Prim Care Clin Office Pract (2009); 36: 199-226

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