How long does menopause last?
Menopause is the normal phase in a woman’s life that starts from her last menstrual period up to at least a year with no menstrual cycles. Menstrual periods stop permanently and she can no longer conceive. To say that a woman has reached her menopause, her periods should not have occurred for at least 12 months after her last period.
Menopause can happen anytime between 45 and 55 years of age. The average age for menopause in the United States is 52.
The transition (or time) from the beginning of irregular menstrual periods to the last menstrual period is known as perimenopause and the time after menopause is termed postmenopause. Perimenopause usually starts in a woman's mid to late 40s and can last anywhere between one and four years before menopause strikes. Women who have undergone menopause are referred to as postmenopausal women.
Menopause that sometimes occurs early is known as premature menopause. This happens after the surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy) or uterus (hysterectomy). It can also be due to an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system of the body attacks the body’s own cells.
What happens during menopause?
As a woman enters her 40s, her body starts producing low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Decreased levels of these hormones give rise to physiological and emotional changes in her body during menopause. A woman’s risk of some health conditions such as cardiac problems and diabetes also increases.
In some women, the symptoms of menopause might either start at once or creep up slowly over time. Some of the symptoms that happen while transitioning to menopause include
- Irregular periods
- Breasts feel tender
- Periods that are shorter or longer than they were before
- Periods that are heavier or lighter than before
- Hot flashes/flushes
- Vaginal itching and burning (due to vaginal dryness)
- Trouble sleeping
- Mood swings or irritability
- Urinary incontinence (trouble holding the urine when the urge comes)
- Pain during sex
- Loss of interest in sex
How is menopause diagnosed?
The doctor usually diagnoses menopause after taking the menstrual history of the patient that includes gaps between two periods, the amount of blood flow during periods and the time passed since the last period.
A blood test that measures the levels of follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) can also help the doctor ascertain the diagnosis of menopause. However, for many women, a blood test is not necessary. Most of the time, their menstrual history is enough to diagnose menopause.
How to deal with menopause?
Meet the physician and discuss the symptoms that are occuring.
Healthy eating patterns and being physically active can help with many menopausal symptoms such as weight gain and mood swings.
Herbal supplements such as soy milk and red clover may help with some menopause symptoms. These contain an estrogen-like compound. However, one must discuss with their healthcare provider before starting any herbal supplements. These are to be avoided in women who take hormone replacement therapy.
Hormonal and nonhormonal treatments can help with some symptoms. Women need to discuss potential treatments with their doctor.
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