Menopause Q & A
What causes menopause?
Menopause occurs when your ovaries stop producing the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for regulating ovulation and your menstrual cycle. Once you reach menopause, you no longer have periods and can’t get pregnant.
This is a normal part of a woman’s health cycle — sometimes called “the change” — but treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms and improve your quality of life as you go through this natural transition.
When does menopause occur?
Menopause is marked by the permanent end to a woman’s menstrual period. In the United States, the average age at menopause is 52, though you can experience it any time between the ages of 45 and 55.
Menopause is preceded by perimenopause — when symptoms of menopause begin — and followed by post-menopause — when your body begins to adapt to the changes after menopause.
In most cases, symptoms of menopause are gone during the post-menopausal period, though you may experience new symptoms as your body no longer produces estrogen and progesterone.
Some cancer treatments, hysterectomies, and premature ovarian failure can also start menopause.
What are the signs of menopause?
Estrogen is used by many parts of a woman’s body. As levels of estrogen decrease, you could have various symptoms. Many women experience mild symptoms that can be treated by lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine or carrying a portable fan. Some women don’t require any treatment at all, but for others, symptoms can be more severe. The severity of symptoms varies greatly around the world and by race and ethnicity.
Here are the most common changes you might notice at midlife. Some may be part of aging rather than directly related.
The symptoms occur as your body produces fewer hormones. Unfortunately, the levels of your hormones can fluctuate throughout menopause, causing some uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Weight gain, especially in the abdominal area
- Mood changes, including anxiety and depression
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Irregular periods
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
These symptoms can flare up during some months while they may be less severe in other months. This all depends on your hormone levels in that given month. Treatment can reduce these flare-ups and make the transition smoother.
How is menopause diagnosed?
Menopause is diagnosed based on your symptoms, age, and blood testing. Ally Endocrinology team orders blood testing to check your hormone levels and determine the severity of your menopause symptoms.
Based on your evaluation and exam, your doctor may recommend treatment to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
How is menopause treated?
Your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to manage your symptoms, if appropriate. HRT comes in many forms, such as pills, patches, under-the-skin implants, and creams. HRT works by providing low doses of estrogen and progesterone in order to balance your hormones. This reduces flare-ups and the roller coaster of side effects common during menopause.
In addition to HRT, your physician might recommend other medications to manage hot flashes and other symptoms, such as gabapentin and antidepressants.
The menopausal transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55. It usually lasts about seven years but can be as long as 14 years. The duration can depend on lifestyle factors such as smoking, age it begins, and race and ethnicity. During perimenopause, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by the ovaries, varies greatly.
The menopausal transition affects each woman uniquely and in various ways. The body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily. You may experience changes in your bone or heart health, your body shape and composition, or your physical function.
Menopause-related estrogen loss is a common risk factor for osteoporosis. Ally Endocrinology doctors offer bone scanning and comprehensive treatment plans to address bone loss to help you stay fit and healthy as you age.
My Menoplan Tool
My Menoplan is an evidence-based online resource developed by NIA-funded researchers to help people learn about the symptoms and treatments of menopause and create a personalized plan. Learn more on the My Menoplan website.
To discuss your menopause symptoms with the physicians at Ally Endocrinology, call your nearest office or make an appointment online today.