Menopause is a natural process that occurs because of a decrease in the function of the ovaries, which also control estrogen production. In addition to a decrease in estrogen levels, menopause results in decreased progesterone levels, meaning that any eggs that are released are less likely to be fertilized.

When Does Menopause Usually Occur?

Menopause usually occurs between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five, although it can occur much later, or much earlier, than that.

What are the Stages of Menopause?

Menopause occurs in a series of stages. While menopause is usually divided into two main stages, perimenopause and postmenopause, it is more accurately divided into the following four stages:

  1. Premenopause: this refers to the fertile or reproductive stage of womanís life; it spans from the time of her first period to her last period

  2. Perimenopause: this stage refers to the years immediately preceding menopause; perimenopause is characterized by hormonal changes which often lead to menopause symptoms and usually occurs between 45 and 60 years of age. It usually lasts for a period of 2 to 6 years.

  3. Menopause: menopause occurs when a woman has her final period. Menopause is the permanent termination of a womanís period and her fertility. This stage is confirmed when a woman doesnít have a period for twelve consecutive months. Most women experience natural menopause, but some may experience artificial, or premature menopause. Natural menopause is caused by aging and occurs after a natural decline in estrogen and progesterone production. Artificial menopause usually follows a medical intervention, such as a hysterectomy, radiation treatment to the pelvic area or the removal of the ovaries. Premature menopause refers to when a woman stops menstruating before she is forty years old and can occur due to smoking, heredity or exposure to chemicals

  4. Postmenopause: this term refers to the stage after a womanís last period; due to a decline in hormone levels, this stage brings with it a new set of health concerns, including heart disease and osteoporosis.

What are the Symptoms of Menopause?

A woman can experience a variety of menopause symptoms, which occur during the perimenopause stage, including:

  • hot flashes and night sweats

  • depression

  • mood swings

  • dry skin and hair

  • anxiety

  • insomnia

  • weight gain

  • vaginal dryness

  • bone density loss

  • changes in libido and sexual enjoyment

To be sure a woman is going through menopause, diagnostic testing can be conducted, including an estrogen or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level test, in addition to a blood test.

Menopause: Medical and Natural Treatments

There are a variety of menopause treatments, both natural and medical, that can help alleviate the symptoms of menopause:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats: triggered by heavy blankets, caffeine, alcohol, hot water. Dressing in light layers can alleviate hot flashes and night sweats; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods can also minimize these symptoms, as can deep breathing

  • Insomnia: characterized by fatigue, irritability, waking up during the night, trouble falling asleep, cognitive impairment and decreased memory. Natural treatments for insomnia include: valerian, hops, passion flower and dong quai, all of which are sedative herbs. Vitamin B6 is also helpful because it produces serotonin; exercising during the day, avoiding alcohol, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, relaxing before going to bed (for example, taking a bath) and sleeping in a dark room can also help

  • Depression and mood swings: characterized by a decreased interest in life, fatigue, loss of appetite, thoughts of suicide and talk of death. St. Johnís wort, magnesium, a vitamin B complex and exercise can help minimize these menopausal symptoms

  • Anxiety: symptoms of anxiety include feeling out of control, increased heart rate and difficulty breathing. Herbal menopause treatments include passion flower, valerian root and vitamin B, which boost the nervous system. Aromatherapy is also beneficial, and lavender has a particularly calming effect. Yoga, tai chi and meditation can also help relieve anxiety

  • Dry hair and skin: menopause often leads to dry, itchy skin and weak, thin hair that breaks often and that has lots of split ends. Flax seed oil and zinc (found in poultry, dairy, red meat, oysters and whole grains) can help restore your hair and skinís healthy appearance, as can vitamin E

  • Vaginal dryness: menopause decreases vaginal elasticity, leading to vaginal dryness. Vitamin E can help, as can Kegel exercises, which help restore elasticity. Using water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse also minimizes discomfort related to vaginal dryness

  • Bone density loss: menopause can lead to osteoporosis. Calcium, magnesium and vitamin D can help restore bone density, which naturally deteriorates after age 30 due to reduced estrogen levels

  • Weight gain: menopause and weight gain tend to go together, with weight gain generally occurring in the perimenopause stage. However, studies show that this is due more to lifestyle changes than to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. The average weight gain is one pound per year. Weight gain during menopause has been conclusively linked to an increased breast cancer risk. Reducing dietary fat intake and exercising regularly can help to combat weight gain during menopause.

Although their efficacy in alleviating menopause symptoms has been debated, some experts believe that the following herbal treatments can be effective:

  • Black cohosh: a herb that is purported to alleviate depression, night sweats, hot flashes, anxiety and irritability. Black cohosh is part of the buttercup family and is believed to have estrogenic activity. Side effects include nausea, dizziness and headaches

  • Phytoestrogens: natural compounds similar to estrogen that helps to alleviate a variety of menopausal symptoms. Phytoestrogens are found in foods such as fruits, sprouts, red clover, yogurt, lentils and spinach

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is another popular option for providing relief from symptoms of menopause. HRT can be administered orally (in pill form), vaginally (as a cream), or transdermally (in patch form). Because it replaces female hormones produced by the ovaries, hormone replacement therapy minimizes menopause symptoms. HRT can minimize hot flashes and night sweats, and reduce vaginal dryness. It can be used before, during and after menopause.

HRT can also help prevent osteoporosis, colon cancer, macular degeneration (vision loss caused by aging) and may delay the onset of Alzheimerís disease.

Risks associated with HRT include a slight risk of blood clots, ovarian cancer and breast cancer (when used for a period of more than four years). HRT is not recommended for women with liver disease, cardiovascular disease, vaginal bleeding, or a history of uterine or breast cancer.

Menopause and Your Sexuality

Some women experience decreased libido when they reach menopause, while others experience increased enjoyment of sex, due to the fact that they no longer need to worry about pregnancy.

Decreased sex drive during menopause is caused by a variety of factors. These factors can include the following physiological changes:

  • hot flashes, which lead to discomfort and irritation

  • vaginal dryness, which can lead to discomfort during intercourse

  • night sweats, which result in insomnia

  • decreased androgen (male hormone) levels including testosterone, which minimizes libido

Menopause also affects sexuality through the physical changes that accompany it, including:

  • decreased blood flow to the pelvis, which leads to a smaller and less elastic vagina

  • the thinning of the vaginal walls, which also become more tender, making sex more painful

  • urinary leakage due to decreased pelvic muscle support

Maintaining a healthy sex life is important, as it will promote vaginal health. HRT minimizes night sweats, hot flashes and vaginal dryness; over-the-counter medications, such as gel lubricants, can also improve your enjoyment of sex after menopause. Trying new sexual techniques is another way to maintain a healthy libido and sex life.

Menopause and Your Health: Menopause Health Risks

Menopause can bring health risks. Osteoporosis is the most common disease associated with menopause, because of the negative impact on bones caused by declining estrogen levels. Bones can become especially brittle in womenís hips, wrists and spine. The risk of developing breast cancer also increases.

Other menopause-related health risks include, heart disease, also due to decreased estrogen levels, and weight gain.

Urinary incontinence can occur due to the loss of elasticity of tissue in the vagina and uterus.

Taking care of your health during menopause is essential in order to ward off the above health dangers. Talk to your doctor about whether you need any calcium or vitamin supplements. Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet and make sure you exercise regularly.

How can you know when you are beginning the "change?" Well, here in our menopause symptoms section you can find out everything you need to know about the many affects and symptoms of menopause and discover if you may in fact be experiencing the beginning of menopause.  This can be a very emotional and confusing time for many women.  Get the facts about meonpause symptoms and discover the best ways to cope with this change in life.

Symptoms of Menopause:

There are many symptoms that you may be going through during menopause.  Learn about some of the most common conditions that go along with this change, like hot flashes, bone loss, and the cessation of your period, and find out what to do if you are experiencing any of these signs of menopause.  Other common symptoms that come hand-in-hand with menopause are weight gain, memory loss, vaginal dryness, hair loss, facial hair growth, and the loss of libido.  Find out how you can reduce these symptoms of menopause.  Also get some valuable information about health concerns and menopause like a woman's increased risk of heart disease when experiencing menopause.  Learn what you can do to reduce your risk and stay healthy during your menopausal years.

However, not all symptoms of menopause mean you are menopausal.  Early signs of menopause can mean you are going through perimenopause.

Here in our section devoted to treatments for menopause you can get all of the information you need for relieving many of the annoying and irritating symptoms of menopause.  In this day and age there is no need to suffer from the symptoms of menopause in silence.  There are many options available for women undergoing menopause to relieve their menopause symptoms. 

Contrary to the belief of many menopausal women, life does not end with menopause. Like with the many other stages of a woman's life, menopause is just another milestone in the life of a woman.  Our section devoted to women after menopause explores life for women postmenopause to discover what this new stage of life really means.

Many women find the onset of menopause liberating and revel in the freedom from their monthly period and PMS. They love not having to worry about that time of the month and enjoy the liberation from this continuous monthly cycle. 

Some women think this is stage of life is the best for sexual exploration. Many women love the freedom from the worry about becoming pregnant and enjoy the fact that they no longer need birth control at this stage in their life. However, just because a menopausal woman cannot get pregnant does not mean she cannot contract a STD. Learn more today about menopausal women and STDs.