Learning About Menopause

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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 happens during menopause?

In your late 30s, your egg supply starts to decline and hormone production changes. You may notice a shorter menstrual cycle and new PMS symptoms.

Starting sometime between your late 30s and your early 50s, your periods become irregular. This lasts for 2 to 8 years.

During this time, your ovaries sometimes produce higher and sometimes lower amounts of hormones. This can lead to heavy menstrual bleeding.

About 6 to 12 months before your periods stop, your ovaries stop releasing eggs. Estrogen levels drop. This causes your periods to stop. After a year of no periods, you have reached menopause.

During the next year or so, estrogen levels keep going down. This creates some health concerns, including:

  • Higher risk of osteoporosis.
  • Skin changes, including thinner, drier skin; thinner, weaker vaginal lining and urinary tract; and higher risk of vaginal and urinary tract infections.
  • Higher risk of tooth loss and gum disease.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Hot flashes.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Vaginal dryness.

Symptoms related to mood and thinking may also happen around the time of menopause. These include:

  • Mood swings, or feeling depressed or worried.
  • Problems with remembering or thinking clearly.

You may have only a few mild symptoms. Or you might have severe symptoms that disrupt your sleep and daily life. Menopause caused by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy can cause symptoms to be more severe. A condition you already had, such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, or irritability, can also make symptoms worse.

Symptoms tend to last or get worse the first year or more after menopause. Over time, hormones even out at low levels. Many symptoms improve or go away. But sometimes symptoms don't go away.

After menopause, you may get other symptoms. These include drying and thinning of the skin, and vaginal and urinary tract changes.

How are menopause symptoms treated?

If your symptoms are bothering you, there are lifestyle changes and treatments that can help.

Lifestyle changes

  • Choose heart-healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, fish, and whole grains. Limit foods that have a lot of salt, fat, and sugar. Be sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D to help your bones stay strong.
  • Get regular exercise. It can help you manage your weight, keep your heart and bones strong, and lift your mood.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and stress. These things may make symptoms worse. Limiting them may help you sleep better.
  • If you smoke, stop. Quitting smoking can reduce hot flashes and long-term health risks.



If your symptoms bother you, talk with your doctor. You may want to try prescription medicines, such as:

  • Hormonal birth control before menopause.
  • Hormone therapy (HT).
  • Antidepressants.
  • Clonidine.
  • Gabapentin.

All medicines for menopause symptoms have possible risks or side effects. And there's a very small chance of serious health problems from taking hormone therapy. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your possible health risks before you start a treatment for menopause symptoms.

Other treatments

You can try:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This may help reduce hot flashes.
  • Hypnosis. This may help reduce the number and severity of hot flashes.
  • Mind and body relaxation, such as breathing exercises. These may help with hot flashes and mood symptoms.
  • Soy. Some people feel that taking soy may help improve symptoms. But studies have shown mixed results.
  • Yoga or biofeedback. They may help reduce stress.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter H199 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Menopause".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.