Menopause is the process through which a woman ceases to be fertile or menstruate. It is a normal part of life and is not considered a disease or a condition. Symptoms may occur years before a woman's final period. Some women may experience symptoms for months or years afterward.
Signs and symptoms
A diagnosis of menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for one year. However, the symptoms of menopause generally appear before the end of that one-year period.
Irregular periods. Changes to the menstrual pattern are the first noticeable symptoms of menopause. Some women may experience a period every 2 to 3 weeks. Others will not menstruate for months at a time.
Vaginal dryness Dryness, itching, and discomfort of the vagina tend to occur during perimenopause.
Dyspareunia, or pain during sex . Women experience this pain due to lowering estrogen levels. These lower levels cause vaginal atrophy.
Vaginal atrophy is an inflammation of the vagina that happens as a result of the thinning and shrinking of the tissues, as well as decreased lubrication.
A hot flash is a sudden sensation of heat in the upper body. It may start in the face, neck, or chest, and progress upward or downward.
The skin may become red and patchy, and a woman will typically start to sweat. Her heart rate may suddenly increase, strengthen, or become irregular. Hot flashes generally occur during the first year after a woman's final period.
Other symptoms of menopause include:
•a buildup of fat in the abdomen, sometimes leading to overweight and obesity
• hair loss and thinning hair
Without treatment, symptoms usually taper off over a period of 2 to 5 years. However, symptoms can persist for longer. In some cases, vaginal dryness, itching, and discomfort can become chronic and eventually get worse without treatment.
Menopause can lead to the development of complications, including:
• Cardiovascular disease: A drop in estrogen levels has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Osteoporosis: A woman may lose bone density rapidly during the first few years after menopause. Low bone density leads to a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
• Urinary incontinence: Menopause causes the tissues of the vagina and urethra to lose their elasticity. This can result in frequent, sudden, and overwhelming urges to urinate. These urges can be followed by involuntary loss of urine. Women may involuntarily urinate after coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting during menopause.
• Breast cancer: Women face a higher risk of breast cancer following menopause. Regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk.
Treatment for menopausal symptoms can range from hormone replacement therapy to self-management. During menopause, women can pursue a number of treatments to maintain comfort. Most women do not seek medical advice during this time, and many women require no treatment. However, a woman should visit a doctor if symptoms are affecting her quality of life. Women should choose the type of therapy dependent on their menopausal symptoms, medical history, and personal preferences.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Women can keep the symptoms of menopause at bay by supplementing their estrogen and progestin levels. Hormone replacement therapy can be received through a simple patch on the skin. This patch releases estrogen and progestin. HRT is highly effective for many of the symptoms that occur during menopause. There are benefits to HRT, but be conscious of the risks:
Benefits of HRT
•HRT effectively treats many troublesome menopausal symptoms.
•It can help prevent osteoporosis.
•HRT can lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
Risks of HRT
•HRT raises the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer.
•It increases the risk of coronary heart disease risk and stroke.
Hormonal therapy slightly accelerates loss of tissue in the areas of the brain important for thinking and memory among women aged 65 years and over.