What is Natural Menopause?
Natural Menopause is the time when a woman’s reproductive system begins to change: the ovaries stop producing eggs, the body produces less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation decreases until it eventually stops completely. There are no “causes” for natural menopause. It naturally occurs in women, generally between ages 45 and 65. Once menopause is over, a woman can no longer become pregnant.
Menopause is confirmed once a woman has missed her period for twelve consecutive months (barring any other causes).
The average age for menopause is age fifty-one.
What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause - (literally translated it means around menopause) This is the period when physical symptoms begin (sometimes many years) before the final menstrual cycle. This can last for six or more years.
Perimenopausal changes are brought about by changing levels of hormones, including estrogen. During this transitional period, estrogen levels decline erratically. During perimenopause, a woman has low fertility, but may be able to conceive, which is why contraception should be used.
Signs of perimenopause include: vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and irregular menstrual cycles.
What Is Induced Menopause?
Induced Menopause can occur at any age between first and last periods after menstrual cycles cease due to a medical interventions. Examples include surgery or cancer treatments.
Surgical Induced Menopause - when a bilateral oophrectomy is performed (surgical removal of both ovaries), menopause occurs. This is called surgical menopause.
Surgical removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) will not induce menopause if ovaries are intact. A hysterectomy will cease fertility and menstrual bleeding, though. A hysterectomy generally brings the end to ovarian estrogen production several years earlier than would naturally occur.
Women who have undergone surgical menopause generally do not experience perimenopause, although they often have some of the symptoms of perimenopause.
Cancer Treatments: chemotherapy or radiation treatment to the pelvis may cause ovarian damage. Menstrual periods and fertility may end immediately or within a couple of months.
Younger women, or women who receive a lower dose of radiation, may have only temporary damage. Generally, if surgery or treatment is planned and expected to induce menopause, it is suggested that women consider their childbearing options - such as freezing embryos - beforehand.
Symptoms of induced menopause: symptoms of induced menopause are similar to those of perimenopause - hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and vaginal dryness. Premenopausal women who experience surgical menopause may have more intense and sudden symptoms. Likewise, the emotional impact of induced menopause may be greater than those experiencing natural menopause.
What Is Premature Menopause?
Menopause -natural or induced - is premature when women reach it younger than forty years of age. Women may be predisposed to premature menopause, it may be caused by an autoimmune condition, or it may be induced.
Women who experience premature menopause are at greater risks for health problems - osteoporosis and heart disease - thanks to the decrease in estrogen.
What Is Premature Ovarian Failure?
Premature Ovarian Failure is a condition in which the ovaries in women younger than 40 cease to function, causing a cessation in menstruation. If periods never resume, the woman is considered to have premature menopause.
What Is Temporary Menopause?
Temporary menopause occurs when menstruation ceases due to lifestyle factors. These lifestyle factors can include stress, anorexia nervosa, excessive dieting and exercising, certain medications, endometriosis, and PMS. Once a woman resumes a healthy lifestyle or ceases medication, menstruation will resume.
What Is Postmenopause?
Postmenopause are the years after menopause. Due to diminished levels of estrogen, menopause-type symptoms - vaginal dryness, occasional hot flashes - may persist.
Symptoms of Natural Menopause:
- Decrease or halt in menstrual cycles and flow
- Hot flashes, night sweats, skin flushing
- Mood swings due to wild hormone fluctuation
- Decreased interest in sex
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
- Menopause may coincide with midlife stresses like divorce, caring for young children, caregiving responsibilities, widowhood, worries about elderly parents
- Difficulty with short-term memory loss
- Anxiety and panic attacks are common
- Depression - especially if prone to depression
Confirming Natural Menopause:
Menopause is confirmed when a woman has had no menstrual period for twelve consecutive months.
Occasionally, elevated FSH hormone (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels are used to confirm menopause. In this case, a series of FSH levels must be taken as the hormone levels during menopause are rapidly changing. When the FSH level is consistently elevated to 30 mIU/mL or higher and she is no longer having periods, it's generally accepted that she's reached menopause.
Complications of Menopause:
Complications of menopause are caused by decreased estrogen levels:
- Bone loss and osteoporosis
- Changes in cholesterol levels leading to greater risk of heart disease
Treatment of Menopause:
Treatments for menopause are aimed at treating any symptoms and complications:
- Hormone Replacement Therapy - There are some risks involved - increased risks of certain types of cancer, blood clots, stroke, and heart disease. Hormone replacement therapy can help reduce risks of osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.
- Lifestyle Changes (diet, exercise, mineral supplements)
- Calcium and vitamin D can help reduce the risks of osteoporosis, as can exercise
- Water-based lubricants can help alleviate vaginal dryness
- Quitting smoking and drinking can reduce risks of blood clots
- Wearing light clothing can help alleviate hot flashes and night sweats
Additional Menopause Resources:
North American Menopause Society - a wealth of information about menopause, perimenopause, and other types of menopause, including latest drug treatments and suggested practices.
Power Surge - an informative website for women going through the transition of perimenopause to postmenopause. Large focus upon emotional support.
The Hormone Foundation - resource for endocrine-related conditions including menopause, with a search-by-zip-code feature for finding an endocrinologist.