What is Menopause? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Menopause occurs in women after their menstrual cycle ends, and it marks the end of their child-bearing years. Though it is a natural process, read this lesson to learn about symptoms and possible treatment options to alleviate symptoms.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is a stage of a woman's life characterized by the end of her menstrual cycle, and it marks the end of her child-bearing years. As a result of these biological changes, women often experience a number of different symptoms for a period of time, though they eventually subside. It generally happens in a woman's 40s or 50s, though the average age is 51 in the United States. All women go through this stage of life, but if the symptoms cause extreme discomfort or life disruptions, there are some treatment options available.

Menopause Symptoms

In addition to symptoms during menopause, there are also symptoms that can occur leading up to menopause, These are called perimenopause symptoms, and they may include irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disruption, mood swings, weight gain, thinning hair, and vaginal dryness. Sounds fun, huh?

Irregular periods are common, though it's still possible to get pregnant during perimenopause. Menopause occurs due to the decline in reproductive hormones; this change affects the body during the 'transition' period. Menopause may also be triggered by a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or primary ovarian insufficiency. Finally, menopause can be mentally and emotionally taxing, since it signals a major life change, not to mention the beginning of a woman's inability to bear children.

Signs and symptoms of menopause

Treatment Options

During perimenopause, it's recommended to begin regular doctor visits, since there's a number of preventative procedures that should take place around this time, like a colonoscopy, mammography, lipids screening, thyroid test, and breast and pelvic exams.

To help mitigate the side effects of menopause, a doctor may recommend hormone therapy, mainly in the form of estrogen supplements. Vaginal dryness can be irritating, and there are creams and hormones to help reverse this. Sometimes a low dose of antidepressants can help with mood swings, some medications can help with hot flashes, and other medications can help prevent or treat osteoporosis which becomes more likely after menopause. Treatments will change over time as menopause progresses. Eventually, they may all be eliminated. So there's that silver lining!

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