Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period.
Menopause is a natural biological process, not a medical illness. Even so, the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause can disrupt your sleep, sap your energy and — at least indirectly — trigger feelings of sadness and loss.
Even though menopause is not a disease, you shouldn't hesitate to seek treatment for severe symptoms. Many effective treatments are available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.
Technically, you don't actually "hit" menopause until it's been one year since your final menstrual period. In the United States, that happens at about age 51, on average.
But in the months or years leading up to that point, you might experience these signs and symptoms:
When to see a doctor
If you've skipped a period but aren't sure you've started the menopausal transition, you may want to see your doctor to determine whether you're pregnant. Always seek medical advice if you have bleeding from your vagina after menopause.
Menopause can result from:
Several chronic medical conditions can develop after menopause:
Preparing for your appointment
Your first appointment will likely be with either your primary care provider or a gynecologist.
Because appointments can be brief, and it can be difficult to remember everything you want to discuss, it's a good idea to prepare in advance of your appointment.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask include:
In addition, don't hesitate to ask questions as they occur to you during your appointment. Ask your doctor to repeat information, if needed, or ask follow-up questions for clarification.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
The signs and symptoms of menopause are enough to tell most women they have begun going through the menopausal transition. If you have concerns about irregular periods or hot flashes, talk with your doctor. In some cases further evaluation may be recommended.
Under certain circumstances, your doctor may check your level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol) with a blood test. As menopause occurs, FSH levels increase and estradiol levels decrease. Your doctor may also recommend a blood test to determine your level of thyroid-stimulating hormone, because hypothyroidism can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause.
Treatments and drugs
Menopause itself requires no medical treatment. Instead, treatments focus on relieving your signs and symptoms and on preventing or lessening chronic conditions that may occur with aging. Treatments include:
Before deciding on any form of treatment, talk with your doctor about your options and the risks and benefits involved with each.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with menopause are temporary. Take these steps to help reduce or prevent their effects:
Many approaches have been promoted as aids in managing the symptoms of menopause, but not all of them have scientific evidence to back up the claims. Some complementary and alternative treatments that have been or are being studied include:
You may have heard of — or even tried — other dietary supplements, such as dong quai, licorice, chasteberry, evening primrose oil and wild yam (natural progesterone cream). Although some might swear by these remedies, scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness is lacking.
Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking any herbal treatments or dietary supplements for menopausal symptoms. Herbal products can interfere or interact with other medications you may be taking, putting your health at risk.
Last Updated: 2011-07-23
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