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What is menopause?

Menopause is a normal stage in a woman's life when her monthly periods stop. A woman who has not had a period for a full year after the age of 40 is considered to be in menopause. Menopause usually occurs between ages 47 to 53. Perimenopause is a stage before menopause that may cause signs and symptoms similar to menopause. Perimenopause may start about 4 years before menopause.

What causes menopause?

Menopause starts when the ovaries stop making the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. After menopause, a woman is no longer able to become pregnant. Any of the following may trigger menopause or early menopause:

  • Older age
  • Surgery, including a hysterectomy or oophorectomy
  • Family history of early menopause
  • Smoking
  • Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation
  • Chromosome abnormalities, including Turner syndrome and Fragile X syndrome

What are the signs and symptoms of menopause?

The signs and symptoms of menopause can be different from woman to woman:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles with heavy vaginal bleeding followed by decreased bleeding until it stops
  • Hot flashes (feeling warm, flushed, and sweaty)
  • Vaginal changes such as increased dryness
  • Mood changes such as anxiety, depression, or decreased desire to have sex
  • Trouble sleeping, joint pain, headaches
  • Brittle nails, hair on chin or chest where it is normally absent
  • Decrease in breast size and change in skin texture

What do I need to know about menopause?

  • You can still get pregnant while you have periods. Continue to use birth control if you do not want to get pregnant. You may need to use birth control until it has been 1 year since your periods stopped.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be used to treat symptoms of menopause. HRT is medicine that replaces your low hormone levels. HRT contains estrogen and sometimes progestin. HRT has benefits and risks. HRT decreases your risk for bone fractures by helping to prevent osteoporosis. HRT also protects you from colon cancer. HRT may increase your risk for breast cancer, blood clots, heart disease, and stroke. Ask your healthcare provider if HRT is right for you.

How can I care for myself?

  • Manage hot flashes. Hot flashes are brief periods of feeling very warm, flushed, and sweaty. Hot flashes can last from a few seconds to several minutes. They may happen many times during the day, and are common at night. Layer your clothing so that you can easily remove some clothing and cool yourself during a hot flash. Cold drinks may also be helpful.
  • Reduce vaginal dryness by using over-the-counter vaginal creams. Vaginal dryness may cause you to have pain or discomfort during sex. Only use creams that are made for vaginal use. Do not use petroleum jelly. You may need an estrogen cream to put in and around your vagina. Estrogen cream may help decrease vaginal dryness and lower your risk of vaginal infections.
  • Continue to use birth control during perimenopause if you do not want to get pregnant. You may need to use birth control until it has been 1 year since your periods stopped. Ask your healthcare provider when you can stop using birth control to prevent pregnancy.

How can I live a healthy lifestyle during and after menopause?

After menopause, your risk for heart disease and bone loss increases. Ask about these and other ways to stay healthy:

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can also help to control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Include weight-bearing exercise for strong bones. Weight bearing exercise is recommended for at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains (whole-wheat bread, pasta, and cereals), low-fat dairy, and lean protein foods (beans, poultry, and fish). Limit foods high in sodium (salt). Ask your healthcare provider for more information about a meal plan that is right for you.
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. You are more likely to have a heart attack, lung disease, blood clots, and cancer if you smoke. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.
  • Take supplements as directed. You may need extra calcium and vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine may worsen your symptoms.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have vaginal bleeding after menopause.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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