Menopause is the transition period in a woman’s life when the ovaries stop producing eggs, and menstruation becomes less frequent, eventually stopping altogether, normally between ages 45-55. Symptoms during the years surrounding menopause are caused by fluctuation in hormone levels such as estrogen and progesterone. The levels of these hormones decrease during the menopausal years.
Symptoms of menopause may occur suddenly with removal of the ovaries, or gradually with natural onset of menopause. Hot flashes and night sweats generally are worse for the first 1-2 years after the last menstrual flow, and these menopausal symptoms may last for 5 years or more. Severity of the symptoms varies among women.
The falling hormone levels cause changes in the entire female reproductive system. The uterus shrinks, the vaginal walls become thinner and less elastic, vulvar tissue thins, and lubricating secretions diminish. These changes in the female tract can cause uncomfortable feelings of dryness and pain with intercourse. Other common symptoms of menopause include palpitations, sleep difficulties, decreased libido, mood swings, increased urine leakage, and joint aches.
Symptoms may be discussed with your physician and the pair of you may decide whether treatment for these symptoms should be considered. Hormonal and non-hormonal options exist to make the transition through menopause more comfortable. The menopausal transition is also a natural time for you and your physician to consider medical risks going forward, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease.