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Definition of Menopause

Article updated and reviewed by Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, University of Pennsylvania on May 11, 2005.

Natural menopause is the end of menstruation and childbearing capability that occurs in most women around the ages of 50 to 52. Known as the "change of life," menopause is the last stage of a gradual biological process in which the ovaries reduce their production of female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Surgical menopause is the end of menstruation and childbearing capability that occurs as a result of the woman's ovaries and/or uterus being removed.

Description of Menopause

Ovaries begin to decline in hormone production during the mid-30s and typically continue to decline to around the age of 47; this phase is called perimenopause. During this phase, the process accelerates and hormones fluctuate more, causing irregular menstrual cycles and unpredictable episodes of heavy bleeding. By the early to mid-50s, menstruation ends; this phase is called menopause. Two or three years following menopause is the phase called climacteric.

Causes and Risk Factors of Menopause

The age when a woman has her last period is not known to be related to race, body size or age of first menstruation. Menopause may occur several years earlier or later then the median age of 51.

Symptoms of Menopause

During perimenopause, estrogen production is low and the ovaries stop producing eggs. As estrogen levels decline, certain signs (or symptoms) of menopause occur. The first sign is a change in the woman's menstrual cycle. Periods may skip or occur more often, and the flow may be heavier or lighter than usual.

The most common symptoms are hot flashes or hot flush. The hot flash may begin before a woman has stopped menstruating and may continue for a couple of years after menopause. A hot flash can be defined as a sudden sensation of intense heat in the upper part or all of the body. The face and neck may become flushed with red blotches, appearing on the chest, back and arms. It is usually accompanied by perspiration and may last a few seconds to several minutes. For some women, the feeling of heat is followed by a feeling of chills. The hot flash may be particularly disturbing during sleep.

Vaginal dryness is another common symptom of menopause. With advancing age, the walls of the vagina become thinner, dryer and less elastic. These changes may lead to painful intercourse.

Four or five years after the final menstrual period, there is an increased chance of urinary tract and vaginal infections. The symptoms include having to go to the bathroom often, feeling an urgent need to urinate, not being able to urinate, or having to go often during the night.

Other symptoms of menopause may include headache/migraines, mouth discomfort (pain and burning, altered taste sensations, dry mouth and sensitive gums), night sweats, fatigue, heart palpitations, anxiety, poor concentration, poor memory, loss of sex drive/sexual pleasure, breast tenderness, insomnia, mood swings and irritability.

Diagnosis of Menopause

There are telltale symptoms, such as changes in menstrual pattern and the onset of hot flashes, which offer diagnostic clues.

Menopause is suspected when there is a long interval without periods in a woman around the age of 50, particularly if a woman has hot flashes or a low estrogen profile. The low estrogen profile can be discovered during a physical examination by means of an atrophic vaginal smear, the absence of vaginal mucus, or an atrophic endometrium (diagnosed by a biopsy).

NOTE: Homoeopathy treats the disorder effectively and permanently.