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 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
Stages of menopause
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.
Near the middle of a woman’s menstrual cycle (typically day 7 to 22,
or day 14 for women on a standard, 28-day 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 end 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 to stress reduction
techniques. By talking with your doctor about menopause, you can decide what,
if any, treatment is right for you.