5 things women should know about menopause

Hot flashes, sure, but fast heartbeat? Learn common symptoms of midlife changes

A menopausal woman sits in a waiting room looking over her medical records with a nurse.

Menopause is the beginning of a new stage in a woman’s life as her body adjusts to no longer having children. Hot flashes are one of many symptoms women can experience along with dizziness and a racing heartbeat.

Learn more about these midlife changes and the treatment options to consider.

What is menopause?

Menopause is when a woman permanently stops having menstrual periods, signaling the end of her ability to have children. During this time, her hormone levels start to change. Menopause is completed when menstrual periods have stopped for one continuous year.

What causes the symptoms of menopause?

The transition phase before menopause is often referred to as perimenopause. During this phase, the supply of mature eggs in a woman’s ovaries diminishes and ovulation becomes irregular. At this same time, the production of estrogen and progesterone decreases. This drop in estrogen levels causes most of the symptoms of menopause.

When does menopause occur?

Although the average age for menopause is 51, it can occur when a woman is in her 30s to mid-50s or later. Women who smoke and who are underweight tend to have an earlier menopause, while those who are overweight often have a later menopause. Generally, a woman tends to go through menopause at about the same age as her mother.

Beyond the natural aging process, women may experience premature menopause if they have ovarian failure before the age of 40. Surgery can also cause a woman to go through menopause when one or both ovaries are removed, or because of radiation of the pelvis and ovaries.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of menopause is hot flashes. About 75% of all women have sudden, brief, periodic increases in their body temperature. Other symptoms include:

• Vaginal atrophy (dryness)
• Urinary incontinence
• Changes in hair growth
• Intermittent dizziness
• Cardiac palpitations
• Fast heart rhythm

What treatments are available to help manage the symptoms of menopause?

To find the best treatment for symptoms and individual health, women should discuss each therapy option with their doctor. Options can include:

Hormone therapy prescribes a combination of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is commonly taken in pill form; however, estrogen can also be given by using skin patches and vaginal creams.
Estrogen therapy is a prescription for estrogen, which the body no longer makes after menopause. This type of therapy is often prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy.
Estrogen alternatives, such as ospemifene, can be used to improve the symptoms of vaginal atrophy without affecting uterine cancer risk.
Non-hormonal treatments include other medications and alternative therapies such as homeopathy and herbal treatments. Before receiving alternative therapy, women should talk to their doctor about potency, safety, purity, and effectiveness concerns.

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Posted In Gynecology, Midlife, Women's

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