Published on Nov 22, 2017
Medically reviewed by Michael Louie, MD MPH MSc
Menopause is a natural part of the aging process for most women. The age at which menopause occurs can range from as early as 40 years and as late as 55 years, with an average start at 51 years. Menopause is medically defined when a woman’s period has stopped for 12 consecutive months after the final menstrual period, indicating that she has reached the end of her reproductive years. While most women enter menopause as a natural biological process, other women enter menopause due to the loss of ovarian function following surgical removal of the ovaries, or as a result of chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
As women enter into menopause, hormone levels begin to change, and the levels of estrogen and progesterone in their bodies start to go down. In addition to having changes in their menstrual cycle, women may start to have a variety of menopausal symptoms too. These may include:
Menopausal symptoms may be different for each woman. Regarding hot flushes, some women might have mild to moderate symptoms; some might have severe symptoms; and others might not experience any symptoms at all.
In most women, hot flushes (one episode usually lasts between a few seconds to a few minutes) decrease over time and eventually go away. Most women experience hot flushes for 6 months to 2 years. However some women report to have hot flushes for 10 years or longer after experiencing menopause. In contrast to hot flushes, vaginal symptoms may be get worse with age.
Each woman experiences menopause differently and uniquely. Many women believe that menopause is simply something to suffer through, and often have a “tough it out” attitude. For women experiencing symptoms that are disrupting daily life and negatively affecting quality of life, there may be lifestyle changes that may help or medical treatment may be an option. Speaking with your doctor about these issues is always your best bet.
There are a couple of longer-term health concerns that can happen after menopause. Immediately following menopause, bone loss occurs rapidly and may result in osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures. Also after menopause, the risk of heart disease may go up.
Lifestyle approaches may help to lower your risk of heart disease and help prevent bone loss—some of these include:
While it may not be easy to talk about menopause, remember that you are not alone. Many women have menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. A full physical examination and an open conversation with your doctor can help you to assess symptoms that may be relieved with lifestyle changes or medical treatment.
The first step toward starting the conversation is to have a list of concerns and questions prepared for your appointment. Let your doctor know the last time you had your period, your personal and family medical history, and all of your current medications. Describe your symptoms clearly and ask about your options. Ask where you can find more information. If you don’t understand an answer, ask again.
Here are some questions that may help you discuss the issue with your doctor:
Michael Louie, MD MPH MSc, was a Senior Medical Director in Women’s Health, and authored the article, Let’s Talk About Menopause during his employment at Pfizer. Dr. Louie obtained his medical degree at Cornell University Medical Center, and also has a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University and a Masters in Pharmaceutical Medicine from Hibernia College.
Last reviewed: 9/10/2020