What is menopause?
Menopause is the point in your life when you permanently stop having menstrual periods. After 1 year of having no periods, you've reached menopause.
In most cases, menopause happens around age 50. But everyone's body has its own time line. You may stop having periods in your mid-40s. Or you might have them well into your 50s.
Menopause is a natural part of growing older. You don't need treatment for it unless your symptoms bother you. But it's a good idea to learn all you can about menopause. Knowing what to expect can help you stay as healthy as possible.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the process of change that leads up to menopause. It can start as early as your late 30s or as late as your early 50s. How long perimenopause lasts varies, but it usually lasts from 2 to 8 years. You may have irregular periods or other symptoms during this time.
What causes menopause?
Normal changes in your body cause menopause. You start to ovulate less often. Your hormone levels fluctuate, causing changes in your periods. Over time, you stop ovulating and the levels of the hormone estrogen drop. This causes your menstrual cycle to stop. Some medical treatments can trigger early menopause.
What are the symptoms?
Menopause symptoms include hot flashes, trouble sleeping, and vaginal dryness. You may have only a few mild symptoms. Or you might have severe symptoms. Symptoms tend to get worse the first year after menopause. But then many of them improve or go away.
How is it diagnosed?
Your age, your history of menstrual periods, and your symptoms will tell your doctor if you are near or at menopause. You likely won't need to be tested to see if you have started perimenopause or reached menopause. But if your doctor suspects another medical condition, you may have some tests.
How is menopause treated?
You don't need treatment for menopause unless your symptoms bother you. The first step is to have a healthy lifestyle. It can help reduce symptoms. But if your symptoms are upsetting or uncomfortable, there are medicines that can help. Medicines may include hormonal birth control, hormone therapy, antidepressants, clonidine, or gabapentin.
How can you care for yourself?
A healthy lifestyle can help you manage menopause symptoms. It can also help lower your risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, and other long-term health problems.
- If you smoke, stop. Quitting smoking can reduce hot flashes and long-term health risks.
- Get regular exercise. It can help you manage your weight, keep your heart and bones strong, and lift your mood.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. This may help manage menopause symptoms.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Choose foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, fish, or whole grains. Limit foods that have a lot of salt, fat, and sugar.
- Be sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D to help your bones stay strong. Eat foods that are rich in calcium. Ask your doctor if taking a supplement with calcium and vitamin D is right for you.
- Try to manage stress. Breathing exercises, mediation, or yoga may help.