What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the absence of periods for 12 months. It marks the time in a woman’s life when the function of the ovaries ceases.
The average age of menopause is 51 years. However, the physical changes of menopause start many years before that. The transition leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. “Postmenopausal” is a term used to refer to the time after the menopause has occurred.
What Causes Menopause?
Menopause is part of the normal aging process. During the reproductive years, the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone which regulate the menstrual cycle. When a woman reaches perimenopause, the ovaries’ production of hormones is more erratic. She experiences changes in her menstrual cycle and the periods eventually stop. Symptoms of the perimenopause can vary greatly from one woman to another.
Menopause is called premature when it occurs before the age of 40 years. Premature menopause can be genetic, can be caused by an autoimmune process or can be induced with a medical intervention such as surgery or cancer treatment. Cigarette smokers reach menopause approximately two years earlier than nonsmokers.
For a few women, menstrual periods simply stop one day. However, the vast majority of women notice subtle changes in their periods over many years. It is important to remember that the symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause can vary greatly from one woman to another. The symptoms can also come and go over an extended period of time for some women.
Symptoms of the menopause can include irregular menstrual cycles, hot flushes and night sweats, vaginal dryness and irritation and mood swings.
When should you see a doctor?
Not all menstrual changes in perimenopausal women are due to approaching menopause. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention:
Extremely heavy periods;
Periods lasting for more than 7 days;
A menstrual cycle that occurs more frequently than every 21 days (measured from the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next);
If you experience bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse.
Treatment for menopause, although not usually necessary, can include hormones or other treatments. Hormones are not prescribed for all patients because, for some women, the risks of hormonal therapy may far outweigh the benefits.
At IMC we can identify any possible issues with an annual medical Well Women’s health check. This is specifically designed to address any concerns or warning signs and ensure your well being. If you do have any concerns or questions about menopause or any other issue relating to women’s health and contraception, the team at IMC are happy to see you and discuss these with you.
MB ChB (Belfast, UK), DRCOG (UK), MRCGP (UK)
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