Menopause

Millions of women experience or “reach” menopause every year, but few completely understand the physiological changes involved. Menopause is not a disease or condition, but a normal part of a woman’s life cycle. Menopause may occur as early as age 40, although it usually occurs at 45–55 years.

What is Menopause?

Menopause, quite literally, is the cessation of a female’s monthly menses. When a woman’s sex hormones fall and her reproductive organs no longer produce eggs, her menstrual cycle will stop. In medical terms, menopause is defined as “cessation of menstruation for at least 12 months not due to any underlying medical condition”.

While menopause is directly related to the decrease in a woman’s production of estrogen, there may be outside factors that influence when menopause occurs. Genetics is one factor that determines when menopause will occur, a woman will experience menopause at about the same age as her mother did. Ethnicity, your age at puberty, the number of children you have or the use of oral contraceptives may be additional factors that influence when a woman will go through menopause. Smoking can cause menopause to occur one or more years early.

Menopause involves three distinct phases: perimenopause, the months leading up to menopause, menopause, the 12 month period of no menses, and postmenopause, life after menopause. The symptoms of menopause often begin during perimenopause, the months before the onset of menopause.

Symptoms of Menopause

  • Your periods become irregular in frequency, duration and intensity.
  • You will experience hot flashes and night sweats for no apparent reason.
  • You may begin to experience trouble sleeping.
  • You may become moody, anxious or depressed secondary to fluctuating hormones.
  • You may become forgetful.
  • You may lose interest in sex although this varies greatly by individual.
  • Your hair, skin and nails will become drier and thinner.

Emotional Effects of Menopause

Menopause is a physiological process directly related to aging, but the process may also produce lasting psychological and emotional trauma. Depression, anger, and mood swings are common and may go beyond those produced by fluctuating hormone levels. You may also experience fluctuations in appetite, insomnia and anger.

If these emotional effects are severe or last for an extended period of time, you should seek help. Emotional distress or emotional problems due to menopause do not in any way suggest that you are crazy, menopause effects some women much harder than others. Counseling can help, as can a support group of those with similar experiences. Do not ignore the emotional impact of menopause or try to battle menopause without a support network.

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