Menopause Glossary of Terms

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 25, 2022
12 min read

Adjuvant therapy: Treatment provided in addition to the primary treatment.

Alternative medicine: Practices not generally recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches.

Alzheimer's disease: A progressive disease in which nerve cells in the brain degenerate and brain matter shrinks, resulting in impaired thinking, behavior, and memory.

Amenorrhea: The absence of a woman's monthly period.

Androgens: A group of hormones that promote the development and maintenance of male sex characteristics.

Antidepressants:Medications used to treat depression.

Anti-hypertensive drugs: Medications used to treat high blood pressure.

Anti-inflammatory drugs: Drugs that reduce inflammation and/or swelling.

Anxiety: A feeling of apprehension, fear, nervousness, or dread accompanied by restlessness or tension.

Atherosclerosis: Also called hardening of the arteries, this is a disease characterized by a narrowing of the arteries caused by cholesterol-rich plaques. Atherosclerosis is a common cause of coronary artery disease or heart disease.

Biofeedback: A method of learning to voluntarily control certain body functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle tension with the help of a special machine. This method can help control pain and other bodily functions.

Birth control: A way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. Methods include birth control pills, condoms, vaginal spermicides, intrauterine devices (IUDs), vasectomy and several others.

Bisphosphonates: A group of drugs used to treat or prevent osteoporosis and to treat the bone pain caused by some types of cancer.

Bladder: The sac that holds urine.

Bladder prolapse: A condition in which the bladder moves downward from its normal position. It is usually caused by a weakness in the pelvic floor after childbirth.

Bone mineral density (BMD): A term used to describe the amount of calcium present in bone.

Breast cancer: A disease in which abnormal cells in the breast divide and multiply in an uncontrolled fashion. The cells can invade nearby tissue and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system (lymph nodes) to other parts of the body.

Calcium: A mineral taken in through the diet that is essential for a variety of bodily functions, such as the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and proper heart function. Imbalances of calcium can lead to many health problems. Calcium is also important for bone health.

Cancer: A general term for more than 100 diseases in which there is an uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells. Cancer cells can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Cataracts: A cloudy or opaque area in the lens of the eye.

Cell proliferation: An increase in the number of cells as a result of cell growth and cell division.

Cervix: The lowest part of the womb, or uterus, through which babies pass when they are born.

Chemotherapy: Drugs that have a toxic effect on cells. Often used in the treatment of cancer to kill the cancerous cells.

Clinical trial: An organized research program conducted with patients to evaluate a new medical treatment, drug, or device.

Complementary therapy: Practices not generally recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches and used to enhance or complement standard treatments. Complementary medicine includes dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, herbal tea, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing, and meditation.

Coronary artery disease: A condition caused by the narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.

Depression: A condition characterized by altered mood. There is loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Depression prevents a person from leading a normal life. Types of depression include major depression, bipolar depression, chronic low-grade depression (dysthymia), and seasonal depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD).

DEXA scan: Also called dual X-ray absorptiometry scan, it is a special X-ray that detects bone thinning.

Diabetes: A group of diseases in which the body cannot properly control the amount of sugar in the blood. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood is too high, causing a variety of complications ranging from heart disease to blindness and kidney failure. This disease occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or does not use it properly.

Dysmenorrhea: Pain associated with a woman's menstrual period.

Dyspareunia: Pain during intercourse.

Endometrial cancer: Cancer of the lining of the uterus or womb.

Endometriosis: A condition in which tissue that looks and acts like endometrial tissue is found outside the uterus, usually inside the abdominal cavity/pelvic cavity.

Estrogen: A female sex hormone that stimulates and maintains female sex characteristics. They are either natural or synthetic. Estrogens are used to treat menstrual and menopausal disorders and are also used in oral contraceptives.

Evista (Raloxifene): A drug that belongs to the family of drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) and is used in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Raloxifene is also being studied as a cancer prevention drug.

Fallopian tubes: Narrow, muscular tubes attached to the upper part of the uterus that serve as tunnels for the ova (egg) to travel from the ovaries to the uterus. Conception, the fertilization of an egg by a sperm, normally occurs in the fallopian tubes.

Fibroids: Common benign tumors made up of muscle cells and connective tissue that develop within the wall of the uterus.

Fimbriae: The finger-like projections on the end of the fallopian tubes. The fimbriae sweep the egg into the fallopian tube.

Fibrinogen: A protein in the blood that helps it clot.

Flibanserin (Addyi): A drug used to treat low sexual desire in premenopausal women. The drug has not been approved for menopausal women. It is also known to have some serious interactions with alcohol and some medications and should not be used by women who drink alcohol.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): A hormone produced by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain). In women, FSH stimulates the growth of follicles, the small, cysts that hold the eggs and the supporting cells responsible for the growth and nurturing of the egg. In men, FSH is necessary for sperm production.

Forteo: An injectable bone-building medication.

Fosamax: Also known as alendronate, Fosamax is a drug that has been shown to increase bone mass and reduce bone fractures(bisphosphonate). It is used to prevent and treat osteoporosis.

Gynecologist: A doctor who specializes in the care and health of the female reproductive organs.

HDL cholesterol: Referred to as "good" cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein is a type of cholesterol that protects against heart disease.

Heart disease: A condition that affects the heart muscle or the blood vessels of the heart.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Also known as hormone therapy (HT). The use of hormones, usually a combination of estrogen and progesterone (or estrogen only in women who no longer have their uterus), as a therapy that may be used to treat some of the discomforts of menopause.

Hormones: Chemicals produced by glands in the body. Hormones control the actions of certain cells or organs.

Hot flash: A vasomotor symptom, a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. It's a vasomotor symptom.

Hysterectomy: The surgical removal of the uterus.

Impotence: The inability to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse.

Incontinence: Loss of bladder and/or bowel control.

Induced menopause: Menopause that occurs when the ovaries are surgically removed. Induced menopause can also result from damage to the ovaries caused by radiation or by medications used in chemotherapy.

Inhibited sexual desire (reduced libido): A decrease in desire for or interest in sexual activity.

Insomnia: Difficulty in going to sleep or getting enough sleep.

Kegel exercises: Exercises to strengthen the muscles that line the floor of the pelvis by alternately squeezing and holding the muscles and then relaxing them. They can help prevent incontinence.

LDL cholesterol: Considered to be "bad" cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein is a type of cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease.

Luteinizing hormone (LH): A hormone produced by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain). In women, LH causes the dominant follicle to release its egg from the ovary (ovulation). In men, LH stimulates the production of testosterone, which is necessary for sperm production.

Macular degeneration: A disease that occurs when the macula, the part of the retina at the back of the eye that provides sharp, central vision, deteriorates with age. It is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults.

Mammogram: A series of specialized X-rays of the breast used to detect abnormal growths or changes in the breast tissue.

Menopause: End of a woman's reproductive years. At this time, menstruation has stopped. Menopause occurs when a women has not had a menstrual period for a full year.

Menstrual cycle: The monthly cycle of hormonal changes from the beginning of one menstrual period to the beginning of the next.

Menstruation: The periodic shedding of the uterine lining.

Mittelschmerz: The pelvic pain that some women experience during ovulation. (Ovulation generally occurs about midway between menstrual cycles; hence the term mittelschmerz, which comes from the German words for "middle" and "pain.")

Oocytes (ova or egg cells): The female cells of reproduction.

Oophorectomy: A surgical procedure in which one or both of the ovaries is removed.

Orgasm: Sexual climax.

Osteoporosis: A condition that is characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density, causing bones to become fragile or "thin," increasing the risk of fracture.

Ovarian cancer: An abnormal growth of tissue (tumor) that develops in a woman's ovaries.

Ovarian cyst: A sac filled with fluid or a semisolid material that forms on or within one of the ovaries, the small organs in the pelvis that make female hormones and hold egg cells.

Ovary: A small organ in the pelvis that makes female hormones and holds egg cells which, when fertilized, can develop into a baby. There are two ovaries: one located on the left side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows) and one on the right.

Pap smear: A screening test for cervical cancer in which a sample of cells is taken from a woman's cervix. The test is used to detect changes in the cells of the cervix.

Parathyroid hormone: A substance made by the parathyroid gland (located in the neck) that helps the body store and use calcium.

Pelvic cavity: The space inside the pelvis that holds the reproductive organs.

Pelvic exam: An exam during which a health care provider inserts a speculum (an instrument that lets the provider see inside the vagina) and examines the vagina and cervix. The doctor will do an exam to feel for any lumps or changes in the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries. A Pap smear test is usually done during a pelvic exam.

Pelvic ultrasound: A test that uses sound waves to produce an electronic image of the organs of the pelvis.

Perimenopause: The time of a woman's life when menstrual periods become irregular. Refers to the time leading up to menopause. This is the time of a woman’s life when menstrual periods can become irregular.

Phytoestrogens: Estrogen-like substances from certain plants that work like a weak form of estrogen.

Postmenopause: Refers to the time after menopause. Menopause is the time in a woman's life when menstrual periods stop permanently.

Premature menopause: Menopause that occurs before the age of 40 that may be the result of genetics, autoimmune disorders, or medical procedures like a hysterectomy.

Premature ovarian failure: Also called primary ovarian insufficiency, it is a condition in which a woman's ovaries, for unknown reasons, stop producing eggs before the age of 40.

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency: See premature ovarian failure.

Progesterone: A female hormone that acts to prepare the uterus (the womb) to receive and sustain a fertilized egg.

Progestin: A synthetic form of progesterone.

Reduced libido (inhibited sexual desire): A decrease in desire for or interest in sexual activity.

SERM: A selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) is a drug that acts like estrogen on some tissues, but blocks the effect of estrogen on other tissues. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) and raloxifene (Evista) are two examples of SERMs.

Sexual health: Sexual health refers to the many factors that impact sexual function and reproduction. These factors include a variety of physical, mental, and emotional issues. Disorders that affect any of these factors can impact a person's physical and emotional health, as well as their relationships and self-image.

Sexual response cycle: The sequence of physical and emotional changes that occur as a person becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexually stimulating activities, including intercourse and masturbation. The sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD): A disease passed from one person to another by unprotected sexual contact. You can get a sexually transmitted disease from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus, or vagina, or by genital touching.

Sperm: The male reproductive cells.

Stress incontinence: An involuntary loss of urine that occurs during activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising.

Surgical menopause: Induced menopause that results from surgical removal of the ovaries for medical reasons. Surgical menopause can occur at any age.

Tamoxifen: An anticancer drug that belongs to the family of drugs called antiestrogens. Tamoxifen blocks the effects of the hormone estrogen in the body.

Testicles (testes; singular testis): Part of the male reproductive system, the testicles manufacture male hormones, including testosterone, and produce sperm, the male reproductive cells. The testicles are located inside the scrotum, the loose sac of skin that hangs below the penis.

Testosterone: The male hormone that is essential for sperm production and the development of male characteristics, including muscle mass and strength, fat distribution, bone mass, and sex drive.

Thyroid gland: A gland located beneath the voice box in the throat that produces thyroid hormone. The thyroid helps regulate growth and metabolism.

Urge incontinence: A condition characterized by a strong desire to urinate, followed by involuntary contractions of the bladder causing loss of urine.

Urinary tract infection (UTI): A condition that occurs when bacteria gets into the urinary tract and causes infection and inflammation.

Urogynecologist: A gynecological surgeon that specializes in the treatment of women with pelvic floor disorders such as urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

Urologist: A doctor who is specially trained to treat problems of the male and female urinary system and the male sex organs.

Uterus: The small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis. This is the organ in which a fetus develops. Also called the womb.

Vagina: The tube that joins the cervix (the lower part of the uterus, or womb) to the outside of the body. Also known as the birth canal.

Vaginal dryness: Inadequate lubrication of the vagina that can be caused by low estrogen levels, medication, or lack of sexual arousal.

Vaginal lubricant: A moisturizing product used to treat vaginal dryness.

Vasomotor symptoms. These are symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats that occur around the time of menopause. They frequently lead to sleep disturbance, mood disorders, difficulty concentrating, and can impact relationships.

Very-low-dose birth control: Birth control pills that contain less estrogen than regular birth control pills.

Vitamin D: A vitamin that enables the body to absorb calcium.

Weight-bearing exercise: Exercise during which bones and muscles work against the force of gravity and the feet and legs carry a person's weight. Examples include walking, jogging, dancing, and working with weights.

Women's health specialist: A doctor specializing in women's health issues.

X-ray: High-energy radiation used in low doses to diagnose diseases and used in high doses to treat cancer. X-rays use high-energy radiation in low doses to create images of the body to help diagnose diseases and determine the extent of injuries.

Yeast infections (vaginal): Infections of the vagina caused by one of the many species of fungus called Candida.