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Menopause

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D E S C R I P T I O N

Menopause is a natural event that gradually ends the monthly cycles of ovulation and menstruation, as well as the ability of a woman to conceive children. The transition to menopause can take up to a year, during which irregular periods occur. A woman can become pregnant until she has had no periods for a year. The average age at which menopause occurs is in the late forties or early fifties, but it can occur a decade earlier or later. Menopause also occurs if the ovaries are removed surgically.


R I S K

There are no particular risk factors for menopause; all women with their ovaries in place will go through this phase of life. However, smokers can reach menopause two years earlier than nonsmokers.


S Y M P T O M S

The symptoms of menopause are caused by hormonal changes in the body and can be both physical and emotional. While some women are hardly aware that they are going through menopause, many experience varying degrees of discomfort. They may suffer from hot flashes, which can be limited to the face and neck or affect the entire body. These may be accompanied by heavy perspiration, a feeling of closeness and the need for more air. Headaches, sleep loss and mood swings sometimes affect menopausal women. There may be a loss of sexual desire and fatigue; vaginal dryness and bladder problems are frequent complaints.

Most of these disturbances are temporary and will disappear when the transition to menopause is complete. If vaginal dryness continues, your doctor may recommend a cream or an ointment, and ongoing bladder problems may need to be addressed medically. Other symptoms that may require a doctor's attention include extremely heavy menstrual periods, sometimes with clots; bleeding after intercourse; or menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than usual or occurs more frequently than every three weeks.


T R E A T M E N T

It is comforting to know that the discomfort of menopause is temporary, and that relief is available. While hormonal treatment is widely prescribed, every woman needs to discuss this option with her physician and consider the possible risks and benefits. Estrogen replacement therapy and hormone replacement therapy are available in different forms and strengths.

Many women will benefit from an improved diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes. Soy protein, the vitamins E and B complex and the herb black cohosh have been helpful in relieving hot flashes and other symptoms. Internal dryness is treated with special vaginal lubricants or a prescription estrogen cream.

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