When does menopause occur?
Menopause naturally occurs in women over the age of 40, typically between the ages of 45 and 55.
This phase begins years before menopause when the ovaries begin to slow their production of estrogen.
When menopause occurs before age 40, it is considered premature menopause. Risk factors associated with premature menopause include:
- Radiation exposure
- Exposure to chemotherapeutic drugs or surgery that impairs the ovarian blood supply
Surgery-related menopause results in an abrupt menopause, with women often experiencing more severe menopausal symptoms than if they were to experience it naturally. It can follow:
- The removal of an ovary or both ovaries
- Radiation of the pelvis, including the ovaries, in premenopausal women
The years following menopause are known as postmenopause. The symptoms associated with menopause ease or disappear during this time, but can contribute to conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Bladder and pelvic floor problems
- Increased occurrence of cataracts or macular degeneration
Am I menopausal or perimenopausal?
There are no unique physical findings or laboratory tests to diagnose menopause. Signs that menopause has begun include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
LVHN providers recommend you keep a diary of menstrual cycles and the physical and psychological changes you experience over the course of several months. If necessary, your provider may use the information to evaluate any additional care you might need.
In some circumstances, your provider may use a blood test to check the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone. Low thyroid hormone levels can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause, such as swelling, mood changes and hot flashes.
Menopause-related care and support
Menopause is not a disorder, so you will likely never need treatment. Your provider may recommend complementary therapies to help you in your menopause transition.
When symptoms are severe, your LVHN provider may suggest symptom-alleviating medications such as:
Estrogen and progesterone hormone therapy are prescribed in pill form and as transdermal skin patches and vaginal creams.
The use of over-the-counter creams that do not contain estrogen may relieve some of the symptoms associated with menopause.
Estrogen alternatives, so-called "synthetic estrogens," may offer the benefits of estrogen like osteoporosis prevention, without associated risks like endometrial cancer.
Homeopathy and herbal treatments may offer some relief from some menopause symptoms.