Menopause: Symptoms & Treatment
Menopause is not a disease or an illness. It is a transition between two phases of a woman's life. Menopause occurs when a woman permanently stops menstruating (having periods).
Many women experience a variety of symptoms as a result of the hormonal changes associated with the transition through menopause. Around the time of menopause, women often lose bone density and their cholesterol may worsen, increasing their risk of heart disease.
- Premature menopause: The average age of US women in whom menopause occurs is 51 years. The most common age range at which women experience menopause is 48-55 years. If menopause occurs in a woman younger than 40 years, it is considered premature. Menopause is considered late if it occurs in a woman older than 55 years. For most women, menopause is a normal occurrence.
- --- Menopause is more likely to occur at a slightly earlier age in women who smoke, have never been pregnant, or live at high altitudes.
- --- If premature menopause occurs, a health care provider will check for other medical problems. About 1% of women experience premature menopause.
- Perimenopause: The hormonal changes associated with menopause actually begin prior to the last menstrual period, during a 3- to 5-year period called perimenopause. During this transition, women may begin to experience menopausal symptoms and may lose bone density, even though they are still menstruating.
- Surgical menopause: Surgical menopause is the removal of the ovaries. Women who have had surgical menopause have an increased risk of early heart disease and often experience menopausal symptoms, unless they are given medication.
Menopause occurs when a woman's ovaries run out of functioning eggs. At the time of birth, most females have about 1-3 million eggs, which are gradually lost throughout a woman's life. By the time of a girl's first menstrual period, she has an average of about 400,000 eggs. By the time of menopause, a woman may have fewer than 10,000 eggs. A small percentage of these eggs are lost through normal ovulation (the monthly cycle). Most eggs die off through a process called atresia.
- Normally, FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone (a reproductive hormone), is the substance responsible for the growth of ovarian follicles (eggs) during the first half of a woman's menstrual cycle. As menopause approaches, the remaining eggs become more resistant to FSH, and the ovaries dramatically reduce their production of a hormone called estrogen.
- Estrogen affects many parts of the body, including the blood vessels, heart, bone, breasts, uterus, urinary system, skin, and brain. Loss of estrogen is believed to be the cause of many of the symptoms associated with menopause. At the time of menopause, the ovaries also decrease their production of testosterone-a hormone involved in the libido, or sexual drive.
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