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Menopause

Menopause

Menopause is a natural process associated with aging when a woman's menstrual period ends. Menopause is considered complete when a woman has been without her period for one year. It can occur any time between ages 40 and 60. 

Menopause is gradual. The period of time leading up to complete menopause is called perimenopause. Premature menopause occurs before the age of 40. Menopause can also be surgically induced when the ovaries are removed.

Causes of Menopause

Menopause is caused by a gradual decrease in a hormone called estrogen. Estrogen is released by the ovaries. The decrease in estrogen eventually stops the ovaries from releasing eggs.

Menopause Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Disturbed sleep patterns, which may progress to insomnia
  • Mood changes, which may include irritability, anxiety or depression
  • Vaginal dryness and pain with sexual intercourse
  • Dry skin
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Frequent urination or leaking of urine

Diagnosing Menopause

Natural menopause is diagnosed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Menopause may need to be confirmed if it was caused by a surgical procedure. A blood test may be done to look for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). High levels of FSH may indicate menopause.

Menopause Treatment at UVA

Menopause is a natural part of life and doesn't necessarily require treatment. However, symptoms and health risks associated with low estrogen can be treated. These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Types of hormone replacement therapies include:

  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone
  • Combinations of estrogen and progesterone
  • Low amounts of male hormones

HRT is available as:

  • Tablets
  • Gels
  • Skin patches
  • Vaginal rings
  • Vaginal tablets
  • Injections
  • Pellets inserted into the skin.

There are a number of possible risks associated with HRT, such as:

Eat Healthy

A healthy diet during menopause can improve your sense of well-being. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and certain cancers. The diet should be low in fat and include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Your diet should also include enough calcium and vitamin D.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol may increase your symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. They can also increase your loss of calcium. If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation about 1-2 drinks per day.

Quit Smoking

Smoking can increase the risk of early menopause, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Regular Exercise

Weight-bearing exercises like walking and climbing stairs and strength exercises may also decrease your risk of osteoporosis, especially in women who are inactive. Aerobic exercise may reduce some symptoms of menopause in women who are inactive.

Stress Management

Stress management may help ease tension, anxiety and other menopausal symptoms. Deep breathing, massage, warm baths and quiet music are examples of relaxation techniques.

Over-the-Counter Products

Vaginal moisturizers and vaginal lubricants are used to help vaginal dryness.

Nonhormonal Medications for Hot Flashes

  • Medication may be prescribed to reduce symptoms of hot flashes including:
    • Certain blood pressure medications
    • Antiseizure medications
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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Midlife Health Center

UVA's Midlife Health Center treats mid-life women's health issues. Services include screenings, hormone replacement therapy, osteoporosis prevention and treatment and preventive cardiology.