What is menopause?

When a woman permanently stops having menstrual periods, she has reached the stage of life called menopause. The phase before menopause is known as perimenopause and is characterised by irregular ovulation, decreased oestrogen and progesterone. It is the decreased oestrogen production that is responsible for most of the symptoms of menopause. Perimenopause evolves into menopause when the woman has not had a period for one continuous year.

When does menopause occur?

Menopause most commonly occurs when a woman is in her 40s or 50s, with the average age being 51. If menopause begins in a woman under 40, it is called premature menopause and may be associated with a variety of factors, such as smoking, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, autoimmune or genetic diseases.

Menopause may also occur as a result of surgery in which one or more ovaries are removed or the woman receives radiotherapy to the pelvis. In such women, menopause tends to occur more abruptly and menopausal symptoms can be worse.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Menopause is an individual experience with each woman experiencing symptoms differently. The most common signs and symptoms of menopause include;

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dry skin
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowing of the metabolism
  • Weight gain
  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Loss of libido
  • Decrease in bone density leading to brittle bones and osteoporosis
  • Urge incontinence or stress incontinence

How is menopause diagnosed?

Menopause usually is diagnosed by reviewing a woman’s medical history, symptoms and ruling out other causes for the symptoms. For the vast majority of women, hormone tests are not necessary but if the diagnosis is unclear then your doctor may request a blood test for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). In some instances, your doctor may order other tests to exclude other causes for your symptoms.

What are the treatments for menopause?

The treatments for menopause are primarily aimed at relieving symptoms rather than altering the menopause, which is a natural phase of a woman’s life.

Treatments include;

  • Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, pelvic floor exercises (Kegels), avoiding triggers for hot flushes and reducing stress
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Medication to increase bone density
  • Antidepressants
  • Treatments for vaginal dryness such as laser therapy (MonaLisa Touch) or lubricants

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