Menopause refers to the time in a woman’s life when she stops having a menstrual period and is no longer fertile. All women experience menopause, usually between ages 45 and 55. Dr. Malone, will you tell us more about menopause?
Of course, Dr. Patel. Before a woman reaches menopause, she goes through what’s called the menopausal transition, or perimenopause. During perimenopause, the ovaries start to produce less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that dictate a woman’s menstrual cycle. As a result, periods occur less often and eventually stop. Periods may be irregular during this time, meaning they last longer or shorter or occur with lighter or heavier bleeding than normal.
Typically, perimenopause is gradual, happening over a number of years, but for some women, periods stop suddenly. Ovulation, or the release of eggs from the ovaries, also occurs less and less frequently throughout perimenopause, which means fertility is decreased in this time period.
Menopause is the point at which a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. Some symptoms that commonly accompany menopause include:
- Host flashes that last 30 seconds to 10 minutes
- Night sweats, which can disrupt sleep
- Vaginal dryness, which can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable and can lead to vaginal or urinary tract infections
- Stress incontinence, a condition where urine leakage occurs during physical activity or exertion, and
- Mood changes such as irritability or anxiety
The change in hormone levels may also have an effect on a woman’s sex drive. Some women are less interested in sex during the years around menopause, while others enjoy sex more during that time. It’s important to note that pregnancy can still occur during perimenopause, and menopause does not change the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Finally, other physical changes that can result from the loss of estrogen during menopause include osteoporosis, pelvic organ prolapse, and heart disease. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones lose their density, leading to weak bones that are prone to breakage. Pelvic organ prolapse is a condition where the organs in the pelvis drop causing symptoms or pressure. Heart disease may develop due to loss of estrogen, but other problems that many aging women experience, such as weight gain and high blood pressure, can also contribute to heart disease.
Because menopause is a natural and unavoidable experience for all women, there is no treatment for the condition. Many of the symptoms, however, may be treated. For example, a provider may prescribe medication to treat osteoporosis that results from menopause. Hormonal treatments can also greatly improve symptoms. Talk to your provider about other treatments for specific symptoms.