The definition of menopause is the very last menstrual period experienced by a woman during her life. This event marks the end of a woman's reproductive years in the same way that her first menstrual period marked the inception of puberty and the beginning of these childbearing years.
Western women today live a full third of their lives after menopause has occurred. The modern woman tends to experience menopause between the ages of 48 and 55 with the average age for menopause falling at 51 or 52 years of age. When a woman experiences menopause prior to turning 40, this is termed premature menopause.
Experts have begun to use the term menopause to include the period during which the body adjusts to the final hormone fluctuations, or the "climacteric." For most women, these changes come on at a gradual pace over a period of 2-6 years after the final menstrual period. It is during this time that a woman may experience the symptoms of menopause. However, it is important to note that a significant number of women (20%) experience no symptoms, and 60% have only mild symptoms. This leaves only 20% who seek help for severe menopausal symptoms.
Menopause is deemed early when it occurs from age 41-45, but when menopause occurs before the age of 40, it is called premature. Premature menopause can be caused by early ovarian failure, having the ovaries removed through surgery, or as a result of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment. The symptoms of early or premature menopause do not differ from menopause that occurs at an average age by dint of nature.
Because menopause means that the body no longer produces estrogen, a woman who is menopausal is at greater risk for developing heart disease and osteoporosis. Women who experience early or premature menopause have an even greater risk for developing these diseases. For this reason, women who go into menopause at a young age must seek a doctor's advice. Your doctor may prescribe a long-term course of treatment with hormone replacement therapy.
With the approach of menopause, a woman's estrogen stores are depleted and when no more is manufactured by the body, the balance of hormones fluctuates and causes symptoms and changes in the menstrual cycle. The menses may become irregular, longer, or shorter. The bleeding may become lighter, heavier, or unpredictable.
When menopause does arrive, the main symptom experienced by women is hot flashes. There may be a combination of any of the following symptoms:
*Achiness and pain
*Itching or crawling sensation in the skin
*Migraine or headaches
*Lack of sex drive