Female Menopause
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Menopause

What is Menopause?
At what age does a woman typically reach Menopause?
What conditions can cause early Menopause?
What are the Menopause symtpoms?

For more information on treatments see
What Menopause treatments are available?

What is Menopause?

Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. The menopause is sometimes referred to as change of life or climacteric. Menopause occurs as the ovaries stop producing estrogen, causing the reproductive system to gradually shut down. The term menopause comes from the Greek roots 'meno-' (month) and 'pausis' (a pause, a cessation).

The menopausal transition starts with varying menstrual cycle length and ends with the final menstrual period. Perimenopause means "around the time of menopause." It is not officially a medical term, but is sometimes used to explain certain aspects of the menopause transition in lay terms. Postmenopause is the entire period of time that comes after the last menstrual period.

Menopause is the time in a woman's life when the function of the ovaries ceases. The ovary, or female gonad, is one of a pair of reproductive glands in women. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and female hormones such as estrogen. During each monthly menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one ovary. The egg travels from the ovary through a Fallopian tube to the uterus.

The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. The hormones also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Estrogens also protect the bone. Therefore, a woman can develop osteoporosis (thinning of bone) later in life when her ovaries do not produce adequate estrogen.

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At what age does a woman typically reach menopause?

The average onset of menopause is 51 years, but some women enter menopause earlier, especially if they have had cancer or another serious illness and undergone chemotherapy. Premature menopause (or premature ovarian failure) is defined as menopause occurring before the age of 40, and occurs in 1% of women. Other causes of early menopause include autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, and diabetes mellitus. Premature menopause is diagnosed by measuring the levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH); the levels of these hormones will be higher if early menopause has occurred.

Perimenopause, often accompanied by irregularities in the menstrual cycle along with the typical symptoms of early menopause, can begin up to 10 years prior to the last menstrual period. During this period, fertility diminishes. Symptoms of perimenopause can begin as early as age 35, although most women become aware of them much later. It can last for a few months or for several years. The duration of perimenopause cannot be predicted in advance.

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What conditions can cause early Menopause?

Certain medical and surgical conditions can influence the timing of menopause and cause early menopause.

Surgical Menopause - removal of the ovaries

The surgical removal of the ovaries in an ovulating woman will result in an immediate menopause, sometimes termed a surgical menopause. In this case, there is no perimenopause, and after surgery, a woman will generally experience the signs and symptoms of menopause. In cases of surgical menopause, women often report that the abrupt onset of menopausal symptoms results in particularly severe symptoms, but this is not always the case.

The ovaries are often removed together with the removal of the uterus (hysterectomy). If a hysterectomy is performed without removal of both ovaries in a woman who has not yet reached menopause, the remaining ovary or ovaries are still capable of normal hormone production. While a woman cannot menstruate after the uterus is removed by a hysterectomy, the ovaries themselves can continue to produce hormones up until the normal time when menopause would naturally occur. At this time, a woman could experience the other symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and mood swings. These symptoms would then not be associated with the cessation of menstruation. Another possibility is that ovarian failure will occur earlier than the expected time of menopause, as early as 1-2 years following the hysterectomy. If this happens, a woman may or may not experience symptoms of menopause.

Cancer chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Depending upon the type and location of the cancer and its treatment, these types of cancer therapy (chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy) can result in menopause if given to an ovulating woman. In this case, the symptoms of menopause may begin during the cancer treatment or may develop in the months following the treatment.

Premature ovarian failure

Premature ovarian failure is defined as the occurrence of menopause before the age of 40. This condition occurs in about 1% of all women. The cause of premature ovarian failure is not fully understood, but it may be related to autoimmune diseases or inherited (genetic) factors.

What are the Symptoms of Menopause?

Decreasing levels of Oestrogen (the hormone that's responsible for the growth of the sexual organs) causes menopausal symptoms. Some women also suffer psychologically from realising they are ageing and their reproductive life is over.

As the menopause begins, many women have lighter or heavier menstrual flow, during what is known as the peri-menopausal stage.

Common menopause symptoms are hot flushes or night sweats, waves of heat flowing through the body.

Common menopause symptoms:

  • Irregular menstruation
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Tiredness
  • Hot flushes (flashes, night sweats)
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Psychological changes
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Itching, Prickly skin
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Uncomfortable Intercourse
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Insomnia

 

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