For Patients

Facts About the Menopause

Menopause is the medical term for the end of a woman's menstrual periods. It is a natural part of aging, and occurs when the ovaries stop making hormones called estrogens. This causes estrogen levels to drop, and leads to the end of monthly menstual periods. This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 58, but it can happen earlier. Menopause can also occur when the ovaries are surgically removed or stop functioning for any other reason.

Low estrogen levels are linked to some uncomfortable symptoms in many women. The most common and easy to recognize symptom is hot flushes - sudden intense waves of heat and sweating. Some women find that these hot flushes disrupt their sleep, and others report mood changes. Other symptoms may include joint and body ache and dryness of the vagina. Because of the changes in the urinary tract and vagina, some women may have discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse. Many women also notice changes in their skin and hair during menopause.

The menopause transition
The period of time leading up to menopause is termed the Menopause Transition. This was previously called the Perimenopause. The early menopause transition can begin 5 to 6 years prior to menopause. During this time periods become slightly more irregular with cycles changing in that they often occur up to 7 days earlier or later than previously. About 1 to 2 years prior to menopause a woman enters the late menopause transion. Periods are often missed during this time. During both of these phases, hot flushes are often present. In the early transition levels of estrogen and progesterone are often raised giving rise to symptoms such as breat tenderness, bloating, fluid retension and premenstrual mood swings. As in the early transition, hormone levels are often raised, hormone replacement therapy is not indicated as it often worsens symptoms such as breast tenderness and fluid retension. In the late transition, estrogen levels are usually low and at this time estrogen or estrogen/progestn therapy can provide relief from symptoms.