Menopause

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideWhat to Expect During Menopause as You Age

What to Expect During Menopause as You Age

What are the symptoms of menopause?

It is important to remember that each woman's experience is highly individual. Some women may experience few or no symptoms of menopause, while others experience multiple physical and psychological symptoms. The extent and severity of symptoms varies significantly among women. It is also important to remember that symptoms may come and go over an extended time period for some women. This, too, is highly individual. These symptoms of menopause and perimenopause are discussed in detail below.

Irregular vaginal bleeding

Irregular vaginal bleeding may occur as a woman reaches menopause. Some women have minimal problems with abnormal bleeding during the prior time to menopause whereas others have unpredictable, excessive bleeding. Menstrual periods (menses) may occur more frequently (meaning the cycle shortens in duration), or they may get farther and farther apart (meaning the cycle lengthens in duration) before stopping. There is no "normal" pattern of bleeding during the perimenopause, and patterns vary from woman to woman. It is common for women in perimenopause to have a period after going for several months without one. There is also no set length of time it takes for a woman to complete the menopausal transition. A woman can have irregular periods for years prior to reaching menopause. It is important to remember that all women who develop irregular menses should be evaluated by their doctor to confirm that the irregular menses are due to perimenopause and not as a sign of another medical condition.

The menstrual abnormalities that begin in the perimenopause are also associated with a decrease in fertility, since ovulation has become irregular. However, women who are perimenopausal may still become pregnant until they have reached true menopause (the absence of periods for one year) and should still use contraception if they do not wish to become pregnant.

Hot flashes and night sweats

Hot flashes are common among women undergoing menopause. A hot flash is a feeling of warmth that spreads over the body and is often most pronounced in the head and chest. A hot flash is sometimes associated with flushing and is sometimes followed by perspiration. Hot flashes usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes. Although the exact cause of hot flashes is not fully understood, hot flashes are likely due to a combination of hormonal and biochemical fluctuations brought on by declining estrogen levels.

There is currently no method to predict when hot flashes will begin and how long they will last. Hot flashes occur in up to 40% of regularly menstruating women in their forties, so they may begin before the menstrual irregularities characteristic of menopause even begin. About 80% of women will be finished having hot flashes after five years. Sometimes (in about 10% of women), hot flashes can last as long as 10 years. There is no way to predict when hot flashes will cease, though they tend to decrease in frequency over time. They may also wax and wane in their severity. The average woman who has hot flashes will have them for about five years.

Sometimes hot flashes are accompanied by night sweats (episodes of drenching sweats at nighttime). This may lead to awakening and difficulty falling asleep again, resulting in unrefreshing sleep and daytime tiredness. Continue Reading

Reviewed on 9/25/2015
References
REFERENCES:

Clarkson, T. "The Role of Soy Isoflavones in Menopausal Health." Medscape. Oct 2010
<http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/745313>

Rossouw JE; Anderson GL; Prentice RL et al. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2002 Jul 17;288(3):321-33.

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