What is menopause?
Menopause (also known as the "change of life" or climacteric) is a stage of the human female reproductive cycle that occurs as the ovaries stop producing estrogen, causing the reproductive system to gradually shut down. As the body adapts to the changing levels of natural hormones, symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, increased depression and anxiety, and increasingly scanty and erratic menstrual periods are common. Technically, menopause refers to the ceasing of menses, whereas the gradual process through which this occurs, which typically takes a year but may last as little as six months or more than five years, is known as climacteric. Popular use however replaces climacteric with menopause.
Menopause is the time in a woman's life when the function of the ovaries ceases. The ovary, or female gonad, is one of a pair of reproductive glands in women. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and female hormones such as estrogen. During each monthly menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one ovary. The egg travels from the ovary through a fallopian tube to the uterus. The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. The hormones also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Estrogens also protect the bone. Therefore a woman can develop osteoporosis (thinning of bone) later in life when her ovaries do not produce adequate estrogen.
This natural menopause process itself is usually identified retrospectively, when it's been a year since a last period. Susun Weed, in her book Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, describes natural menopause as a metamorphosis, a change from one person to another, similar to puberty. It can be viewed as a hormonal shift mirroring puberty.
Natural menopause occurs when the monthly cycle of ovulation comes to an end. This is because the ovarian supply of follicles and eggs declines sharply as a woman approaches menopause. During this time, called perimenopause, which can last anywhere from five to fifteen years, the brain continues to send out hormones trying to stimulate the development of ovarian follicles, and it is common for a woman's ovaries to respond erratically, so that her hormones fluctuate a great deal from month to month. These fluctuations are responsible for many of the symptoms of perimenopause.
Eventually, though, the ovaries are no longer able to develop an egg for ovulation. Ovarian production of estrogen goes into a permanent decline, and progesterone is no longer produced. The lining of the uterus thins, since it isn't being stimulated by high estrogen levels each month, and monthly bleeding stops. Menopause has occurred. Don't discount the importance of the postmenopausal ovary, however! It continues to produce hormones even after ovulation ends, producing some estrogen and also androgens (male hormones) including testosterone. Some of the androgens are converted to estrogen (estrone) in a woman's fat tissue.
The average onset of menopause is 50.5 years, but some women enter menopause at a younger age, especially if they have suffered from cancer or another serious illness and undergone chemotherapy. Premature menopause (or Premature Ovarian Failure) is defined as menopause occurring before the age of 40, and occurs in 1% of women. Other causes of premature menopause include autoimmune disorders like thyroid disease or diabetes mellitus. Premature menopause is diagnosed by measuring the levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH); the levels of these hormones will be higher if menopause has occurred. Post-menopausal women, especially Europeans, are at increased risk of osteoporosis.
Medical treatments for menopausal symptoms have been developed. Most notably, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), has been used to reduce the weakening of bones and the risk of heart disease after menopause. However, some women have resisted the implication that menopause is a disorder, seeing it as a natural stage of life. There has also been scientific controversy over whether the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks. Specifically, recent studies have suggested that HRT may increase women's risk for Alzheimer's, breast cancer, heart disease and stroke.
More information on menopause
What is menopause? - Menopause is a stage of the human female reproductive cycle that occurs as the ovaries stop producing estrogen, causing the reproductive system to gradually shut down.
When does menopause occur? - Most premenopausal women experience changes in their menstrual cycle. Perimenopause is the phase before menopause actually takes place, when ovarian hormone production is declining and fluctuating, causing a host of symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms of menopause? - The symptoms of menopause can be divided into early and late onset symptoms. Early symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding, hot flashes, and mood changes. Late symptoms include vaginal dryness and irritation, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
What causes menopause? - Menopause occurs when the ovaries are totally depleted of eggs and no amount of stimulation from the regulating hormones can force them to work.
What is premature menopause? - Premature menopause is menopause that happens before the age of 40 - whether it is natural or induced.
What is perimenopause? - Perimenopause is the stage of a woman's life before menopause. The perimenopause is a normal period of transition between the childbearing years and menopause.
What is postmenopause? - Postmenopause is the time when most of the transitional stress of menopause has passed. Since postmenopausal women produce less estrogen, there are some symptoms that they might experience.
What are the treatment options for menopause? - Treatments for menopause can be divided based on those symptoms that are present in a given woman at a specific time. The standard of treatment for menopausal symptoms is replacement of one or both of the major female hormones.
What is hormone replacement therapy (HRT)? - Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment for women who have reached or passed menopause, which often is referred to as "the change of life."
What are the benefits of hormone replacement therapy? - The benefits of hormone replacement therapy include controlling menopause symptoms, preventing heart disease, preventing osteoporosis, preventing some hard-to-detect female cancers.
What are the risk factors for hormone replacement therapy? - Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) risks and possible side effects include increased risk of cancers, blood clots, gallbladder disease, and heart attack or stroke.
What hormones are used in hormone replacement therapy? - The menopause is associated with a relative lack of oestrogens and progestogens. Replacement therapy always requires oestrogens, which are given continuously.
How is hormone replacement therapy taken? - There are many ways of taking HRT, including a daily tablet, skin patches, a small pellet or implant under the skin, a gel applied daily to the skin, or a nasal spray.
What is natural hormone replacement therapy? - Natural hormone replacement therapy (NHRT) is a combination of human estrogens and natural human progesterone.
What are herbal remedies for menopause? - Some women take herbal, natural, or plant-based products to help their symptoms. Wort and chasteberry may help some women with depressed mood.
What is estrogen replacement therapy (ERT)? - Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) is therapy to replace estrogen no longer made by a woman's body because she is post-menopausal or her ovaries have been damaged or removed.
What menopause diet is suggested? - Eating right can definitely ease the various discomforts of menopause including hot flashes, bloating and mood swings.