Menopause

Originally Published: May 18, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 12, 2011
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Alice,

Could you please explain the changes a woman experiences when she experiences the onset of menopause to its completion?

—Approaching

Dear Approaching,

 

The term menopause is used to describe the time period when a woman stops menstruating and begins to produce less estrogen. For most women, the initial sign that menopause is going to begin is a change in menstrual cycles. This may mean more frequent periods, skipped periods, or periods that are spaced more widely apart.

Both physical and psychological changes occur during menopause due to the reduction in estrogen production by the ovaries. Menstruation ceases as the ovaries stop producing eggs, which inhibits ovulation and precludes the need for the menstrual lining to build up each month. The physical changes that accompany menopause include:

 

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • palpitations
  • skin dryness
  • vaginal dryness
  • reduction in vaginal elasticity
  • metabolic effects, such as an increase of fats in the blood

During menopause, bones lose calcium more rapidly, which can lead to an increase in bone brittleness, and as estrogen normally functions to maintain bone mass, reduced estrogen can lead to a decrease in bone density.

Approximately 70 percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes and night sweats that can intermittently occur over a two to five year period of time. Some of the most common psychological symptoms of menopause are anxiety, loss of concentration, and depression. These symptoms are probably due to a combination of reduced estrogen and a reaction to the physical symptoms. For example, night sweats impede sleep, which can result in fatigue, headaches, and irritability.

Medical approaches to menopause include hormone replacement therapy as one option. Nonmedical approaches to menopause include exercise, healthy eating plans, vitamin supplements, herbal therapy, and relaxation techniques.

For more information regarding menopause, try visiting the National Women's Health Network website or checking out Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Alice