Menopause simply means the end of menstruation. As a woman ages, there is a gradual decline in the function of her ovaries and the production of estrogen. Around the time a woman turns 40, this process speeds up. This transition is known as perimenopause.
Women typically menstruate for the last time at about 50 years of age. A few stop menstruating as young as 40, and a very small percentage as late as 60. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers. Most women notice some menstrual changes -- such as periods occurring closer together, skipped menstrual periods, and occasional heavy periods -- up to a few years before menstruation ceases.
Breast Cancer Screening
What it does:
Starting at age:
Checks for breast cancer
40-50 (or earlier with certain risk factors)
Every 1 to 2 years, depending on risk
There is great variation in how different women experience menopause. About 75% of women have hot flashes. Nighttime hot flashes are more common and may result in chronic sleep deprivation. Mood changes aren't as well understood, but some women report an obvious change in mood. In addition, women may experience vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and urinary symptoms. These symptoms are often temporary and pass as your body adjusts. Hormone replacement therapy -- HRT for short -- can help relieve the symptoms in the meantime.
However, menopause does increase your risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and heart disease. Talk with your doctor about how you can decrease these risks.