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Menopause Health Center

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Menopause and Perimenopause - Topic Overview

What is menopause? What is perimenopause?

Menopause is the point in a woman's life when she has not had her period for 1 year. It marks the end of the childbearing years. It's sometimes called "the change of life."

For most women, menopause happens around age 50. But every woman's body has its own time line. Some women stop having periods in their mid-40s. Others continue well into their 50s.

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Menopause gets a bad rap, but there is an upside. A major, essential, glorious one, says Renzie Richardson, a 51-year-old human resources consultant from Cumming, Ga. “I was definitely happy not to have a period anymore. That in itself was a celebration.” Still, the wider ramifications of going through The Change threw her for a loop. “I thought the period was gone -- that was it. But now you’ve got all these other symptoms you have to deal with.” Richardson was taken by surprise by hot flashes,...

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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.

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 during this new phase of your life.

What causes menopause?

Normal changes in your reproductive and hormone systems cause menopause. As your egg supply ages, your body begins to ovulate less often. During this time, your hormone levels go up and down unevenly (fluctuate), causing changes in your periods and other symptoms. In time, estrogen and progesterone levels drop enough that the menstrual cycle stops.

Some medical treatments can cause your periods to stop before age 40. Having your ovaries removed, having radiation therapy, or having chemotherapy can trigger early menopause.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms include:

Some women have only a few mild symptoms. Others have severe symptoms that disrupt their sleep and daily lives.

Symptoms tend to last or get worse the first year or more after menopause. Over time, hormones even out at low levels, and many symptoms improve or go away.

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