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Menopause FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:What is menopause?

A:The medical definition of menopause is not having a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.

The menopausal transition starts with varying menstrual cycle length and ends with the final menstrual period.

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Q:What is the average age of the onset of menopause?

A:The average age for the onset of menopause is 51.

Still, there is no way to predict when an individual woman will enter menopause. The age at which a woman starts having menstrual periods is also not related to the age of menopause onset. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but menopause may occur as earlier as the 30s or 40s, or may not occur until a woman reaches her 60s. As a rough "rule of thumb," women tend to undergo menopause at an age similar to that of their mothers.

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Q:What is the most characteristic symptom of menopause?

A:Symptoms of menopause vary among women. Some of the most common symptoms are hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings, but the extent to which women suffer from all of these is variable.

Some women experience only minimal symptoms, while others may have severe and troublesome symptoms associated with menopause.

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Q:What are health risks that are associated with menopause?

A:Health risks associated with menopause include an increased risk for heart disease (the #1 cause of death for U.S. women) and bone density loss (osteoporosis).

Estrogen offers some protection against both of these conditions, so when estrogen levels fall at menopause, the risk increases.

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Q:What kinds of medications or dietary supplements should menopausal women take?

A:It depends on the woman, her symptoms, and her medical history.

Menopause is a part of life and is not a disease. Some women may wish to have treatment for bothersome symptoms, but not all women need treatment. A woman should discuss treatment options with her doctor if she desires to be treated for symptoms of menopause. Hormonal therapies are only one of the options available to treat the symptoms of menopause.

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Q:How is menopause diagnosed?

A:Hormone levels cannot precisely predict when menopause will occur, and these levels can vary greatly in an individual woman.

No blood or urine test is able to predict the onset of menopause. Blood tests may be ordered to exclude other medical causes of irregular periods. The only definitive way to diagnose menopause is to observe a lack of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months in the typical age range.

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Q:What are proven alternative therapies for menopause symptoms?

A:There are no proven alternative remedies for menopause symptoms, although some small studies have suggested a benefit for certain preparations.

These studies in general are not considered to be extensive or thorough enough to prove a benefit for any alternative therapies. Black cohosh (remifemin) is an herbal supplement that is believed to help reduce hot flashes. Black cohosh is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it is important to be careful about the safety and purity of this and other herbal preparations. Plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) such as soy protein are another popular remedy for hot flashes even though data to show their effectiveness are limited. Inconclusive and conflicting studies indicate that other herbal preparations and supplements including, such as dong quai, red clover (Promensil), chasteberry (Vitex), yam cream, Chinese medicinal herbs, and evening primrose oil, should be avoided or if tried at all, taken with care under the supervision of a health care professional.

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Q:What is perimenopause?

A:Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause.

It can begin up to 10 years prior to the last menstrual period. During perimenopause, some doctors suggest oral contraceptive pills (birth control pills) to help with heavy, frequent, or unpredictable menstrual periods. Birth control pills may also provide some relief of hot flashes, as well as prevent pregnancy. Hormone therapy (HT) may be prescribed for women closer to menopause who are bothered by symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, or vaginal dryness.

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Q:Which is NOT a usual symptom of menopause?

A:Though back pain is not a typical symptom of menopause, menopause may cause different kinds of symptoms.

Some of the more typical symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, profuse sweating, sleep disturbances, headaches, anxiety, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, and vaginal dryness.

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Q:What is premature menopause?

A:Menopause that occurs before the age of 40 is known as premature menopause.

Genetic conditions, illness, and medical procedures are some of the reasons women may go through premature menopause.

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Q:Which factors can affect the timing of menopause?

A:Any time the ovaries are surgically removed (oophorectomy) in an ovulating woman, menopause will result immediately.

Further, chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer can result in menopause if given to an ovulating woman. Whether or not this occurs depends upon the type and location of the cancer and the specific treatments given.

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Q:Hot flashes can last from a few minutes to a few hours. True or False?

A:False. Hot flashes are usually very brief and last from 30 seconds to a few minutes.

Flushing (reddened skin) can accompany the hot flashes. Sweating can also occur with hot flashes.

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Q:Postmenopausal women can still bear children. True or False?

A:False. When menopause occurs, the function of the ovaries ceases.

The ovaries release the mature eggs that are available for fertilization during the normal menstrual cycle. When ovarian function stops, a woman does not have menstrual cycles and can no longer become pregnant.

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Q:Osteoarthritis, vaginal atrophy, decreased estrogen, osteoarthritis. Which is LEAST likely to occur as a result of menopause?

A:Osteoarthritis is a disease of wear and tear on the joints and is not a usual manifestation of menopause.

Vaginal atrophy, thinning and drying of the lining tissues of the vagina, occurs as estrogen levels decline in menopause. Estrogens also protect the bone, so a woman may develop osteoporosis (thinning of bone) when her ovaries produce less estrogen.

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Q:"Male menopause" is sometimes described as a condition referred to as low testosterone or low T. True or False?

A:True. Some doctors have referred to a decline in testosterone levels as "male menopause," although men do not go through a well-defined period of change as women do.

Men do, however, experience a decline in the production of the male hormone testosterone with aging.

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Q:Menopause increases a woman's risk for depression. True or False?

A:True. Changing hormone levels during menopause and midlife can increase the risk for depression in women.

Emotional symptoms related to menopause can include anxiety, fears, and mood swings. Depression during perimenopause and menopause is treated similarly to depression that occurs at other times in life.

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