Image Caption : After menopause, the heart-protective effect of estrogen is lost. Heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in women over 50.


Also called: Change of life

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when her period stops. It usually occurs naturally, most often after age 45. Menopause happens because the woman's ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for one year. Changes and symptoms can start several years earlier. They include

  • A change in periods - shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, with more or less time in between
  • Hot flashes and/or night sweats
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble focusing
  • Less hair on head, more on face

Some symptoms require treatment. Talk to your doctor about how to best manage menopause. Make sure the doctor knows your medical history and your family medical history. This includes whether you are at risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, or breast cancer.

Dept. of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Menopause, also known as the climacteric, is the time in most women's lives when menstrual periods stop permanently, and the woman is no longer able to have children. Menopause typically occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. Medical professionals often define menopause as having occurred when a woman has not had any vaginal bleeding for a year. It may also be defined by a decrease in hormone production by the ovaries. In those who have had surgery to remove the uterus but still have ovaries, menopause may be viewed to have occurred at the time of the surgery or when hormone levels fall. Following the removal of the uterus, symptoms typically occur earlier, at an average of 45 years of age.

Before menopause, a woman's periods typically become irregular, which means that periods may be longer or shorter in duration, or be lighter or heavier in terms of the amount of flow. During this time, women often experience hot flashes; these typically last from 30 seconds to ten minutes, and may be associated with shivering, sweating and reddening of the skin. Hot flashes often stop occurring after a year or two. Other symptoms may include vaginal dryness, trouble sleeping, and mood changes. The severity of symptoms varies between women. While menopause is often thought to be linked to an increase in heart disease, this primarily occurs due to increasing age and does not have a direct relationship with menopause. In some women, problems that were previously present like endometriosis or painful periods will improve after menopause.

Menopause is usually a natural change. It can occur earlier in those who smoke tobacco. Other causes include surgery that removes both ovaries, or some types of chemotherapy. At the physiological level, menopause happens because of a decrease in the ovaries' production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. While typically not needed, a diagnosis of menopause can be confirmed by measuring hormone levels in either the blood or urine. Menopause is the opposite of menarche, the time at which a girl's periods start.

Specific treatment is not usually needed. Some symptoms, however, may be improved with treatment. With respect to hot flashes, avoiding smoking, caffeine, and alcohol is often recommended. Sleeping in a cool room and using a fan may also help. The following medications may help: menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), clonidine, gabapentin, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Exercise may help with sleeping problems. While MHT was once routinely prescribed, it is now only recommended in those with significant symptoms, as there are concerns about side effects. High-quality evidence for the effectiveness of alternative medicine has not been found.

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.