Menopause is a natural biological process that occurs in every
woman’s life. It marks the permanent end of monthly periods (menstruation) and
fertility. This means she is no longer able to have children. During this transition
period, a woman’s ovaries stop making eggs and her body produces less estrogen
and progesterone. Menopause is confirmed when a woman has no period for 12
months in a row.
According to the National
Institute on Aging, the average onset of menopause in the United States is age
51, but the normal range is between ages 45 and 55. Some women enter this stage
of life before the age of 40. This is called premature menopause. Many
different factors can cause premature menopause, such as:
to the ovaries
(such as a hysterectomy)
Although menopause is a completely natural stage of a woman’s
life cycle and not a disease, a series of uncomfortable physical and emotional
symptoms usually accompany it. Various forms of treatment can typically lessen
From the time a woman begins puberty until she enters
menopause, she generally has a period around the same time every month. Of
course, irregular periods happen from time to time. Pregnancy and other medical
conditions interrupt your period.
During the first half of a woman’s normal menstrual cycle, the
ovaries, two glands located on either side of the uterus, produce higher levels
of the hormone estrogen. This causes the lining of the uterus to thicken to
prepare for possible pregnancy. An egg in one of the ovaries also starts to
mature during this time.
On day 14 of a woman’s menstrual cycle, the mature egg is released
in a process known as ovulation. After the egg is released, the ovaries make
more of the hormone progesterone. If the egg is not fertilized, the levels of
estrogen and progesterone decrease, leading the body to shed the lining of the
uterus. This causes a period.
As a woman approaches menopause, her ovaries produce less
estrogen, which can cause irregular periods. The term “menopause” is defined as
a woman’s last menstrual cycle. After a woman’s final period, a year without
further periods confirms the permanent cessation of fertility.
Menopause is defined by three stages. These stages happen over
a series of months or even years.
Perimenopause begins several years before menopause, when a
woman is still having periods. A woman’s hormone levels may rise and fall
because the ovaries are gradually producing less estrogen. This change can
cause hot flashes or other symptoms. Periods will become irregular and may be
shorter, longer, lighter, or heavier. This stage can last four to five years or
longer, until your period stops and menopause begins. Although it’s possible to
get pregnant during this time, it’s unlikely.
A woman enters menopause when it has been 12 months since her
last period. At this point, her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs. Production
of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone significantly decreases. This
stage indicates an end to fertility.
The years following menopausal changes in a woman’s body are
called postmenopause. During this time, symptoms like night sweats and hot
flashes ease for most women.
Most women go through menopause without complications. They
may experience negative symptoms, but these are normal and to be expected.
While some women have an easy menopause with few side effects, others have more
Conventional and alternative treatment methods are available
to lessen these symptoms and ease the transition period. There are many avenues
for relief: from hormone replacement therapy to herbs and stress reduction
techniques. By talking with your doctor about menopause, you can decide what,
if any, treatment is right for you.