Menopause is a gradual process that eventually leads to the cessation of menstrual periods. Once a woman becomes menopausal, ovarian functions cease, and she will no longer be able to have children.
Menopause generally occurs in the early 50s, but some women can experience it as young as the 30s or as old as the 60s. There is currently no way to predict when a woman will experience menopause. The time at which a woman begins having menstrual periods is not an indication of when menopause will occur.
Women experience menopause differently, and it can be an emotional experience. The loss of the ability to have children will hit some women harder than others. A woman who has already given birth may not consider it as devastating, but a woman who has never had children and who experienced menopause earlier than usual may find the news crushing.
Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause generally includes three stages. The perimenopause stage is the onset of menopause, during which various negative symptoms may manifest.
The second stage is menopause, during which menstrual periods cease. The last stage is the postmenopausal stage, and women who have completely experienced menopause will sometimes need to make adjustments to this new reality.
First Stage: Perimenopause
Perimenopause can last for quite a long time and generally entails symptoms that prepare the woman’s body for menopause. During the years between the onset of perimenopause and menopause itself, women generally experience:
- Low estrogen levels
- Decreased sexual interest
- Worsened premenstrual symptoms
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary incontinence
- Breast tenderness
- Hot flashes
Perimenopause lasts for about four to five years or until menopause occurs, which is when the ovaries stop releasing eggs altogether.
Second Stage: Menopause
The full onset of menopause refers to the cessation of menstrual cycles for one full year. During this time, women may experience a wide range of possible effects, and may develop other medical conditions as a result.
For example, some women develop osteoporosis or heart disease during menopause. Many women also experience:
- Mood changes
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal discomfort
- Urinary problems
Doctors can provide customized treatment to individual patients to address their unique symptoms.
Final Stage: Post-Menopause
The term “postmenopausal” simply refers to women who have already reached menopause. Every woman will experience menopause and the postmenopausal stage differently.
Hormonal imbalances can lead to the appearance of more body hair in some women, as testosterone production continues while estrogen production diminishes. Some women experience weight fluctuations and changes in skin texture.
External Causes Of Menopause
Although every woman will inevitably experience menopause, some women experience it at earlier ages due to external influences. Some medical conditions and diseases may require surgeries that cause menopause to begin very soon thereafter. For example, a woman who must have a hysterectomy will experience menopause immediately afterward.
Women who experience menopause in this manner often report more significant symptoms than women who experience menopause naturally. However, some women who undergo surgical removal of the ovaries do not report any symptoms afterward.
Some women will experience menopause early due to problems with the ovaries. If a woman develops ovarian cysts or ovarian cancer, her doctor may recommend surgical removal, which will then spur the onset of menopausal symptoms. Typical menopause entails a full year of cessation of ovarian function, so surgical removal of the ovaries will lead to menopause.
About 1 percent of all women experience premature ovarian failure – or ovarian failure before 40. Doctors cannot predict when this will occur and do not know for certain why it happens; many researchers suspect genetic links and autoimmune diseases as contributing factors.
Women who develop some cancers and undergo radiation treatment and chemotherapy may also experience menopause sooner than expected. Depending on the location of the cancer and the treatments, an ovulating woman can experience menopause due to interference from these treatments.
Menopause symptoms may start during or immediately after cancer treatment, but some women do not report experiencing such symptoms for quite a long time after completing cancer treatment.
What Is Menopause: Treatment Options
Although some external factors can cause menopause early, naturally occurring menopause is a fact for every woman. While menopause is not a medical condition and does not require treatment, it can still produce negative symptoms for some women. Doctors can prescribe different medications to handle hot flashes, mood swings, cramps and other issues. Some women benefit from hormonal treatment.
Doses of estrogen can help make up for lost natural estrogen production. Women who experience vaginal dryness, unwanted hair growth and hot flashes can find relief with hormone therapy.
However, doctors are often hesitant to prescribe these options unless necessary, due to their links to increased risk of stroke, heart disease and breast cancer. Estrogen and progestin can increase these risks in different ways, and estrogen-based hormone therapy can lead to the development of endometrial cancer.
Finding the Right Solution for You
Every woman experiences menopause differently, and it’s vital for every woman to know the best options for handling the potentially unpleasant side effects of the different stages of menopause.
The providers who work with Arizona Gynecology Consultants have experience handling all aspects of menopause and postmenopausal health, so contact us for more information about resources in your area.