What Is Menopause?

Normally when a girl or woman is in her childbearing years, one of her ovaries releases one egg per month. This release is called ovulation. These same ovaries produce the hormone estrogen which prompts the uterus to build up a lining that will allow the egg if it becomes fertilized, to implant and grow.

If there is no fertilized egg, the hormone levels drop and the uterus begins to shed its lining. This process is what causes the bleeding during a menstrual period.

Estrogen production will decrease as a woman nears the menopause years. For the average woman this will be around 51 years of age. As the estrogen levels decrease, irregularity of menstrual cycles will occur. These irregularities may include skipped periods, heavier or lighter menstrual flow. The length of bleeding will often change as well.

If a woman's ovaries have been removed by surgery, early menopause may occur. Due to the drastic change in estrogen production because of surgery, symptoms may hit with greater intensity and speed.

The highest reported symptom of menopause is hot flashes that cause a sensation of heat to across the upper body. The woman may blush bright red or even break out in a sweat. These hot flashes may be alarming to some women because they can occur at any time of the day or night. Although they don't last long, hot flashes can often disturb a woman's sleep cycle. The actual length of time a woman will have to put up with hot flashes varies with each individual. Some women will have them for a few months and others may have them for years.

Although bone loss is a natural part of aging, menopause increases the rate causing bones to thin (Osteoporosis) which in turn raises the risk of broken bones. The bones affected most by osteoporosis are the hips, wrists and spinal column. It is for this reason young women are encouraged to start early in getting an adequate supply of calcium.

As menopause is in full swing, the decrease in estrogen levels increases the chance of heart attacks and strokes. The hormone levels are also the cause of the loss of elasticity of the skin, which causes wrinkles. Fat distribution will also change. One good thing about the fat in a woman's body, it will continue to produce a small amount of estrogen even after the ovaries have stopped. Obese women often find the side effects of menopause go easier with them.

Women will also find that their hair starts to thin, and acquires a different texture and even some pubic hair will be lost. Hair isn't the only thing that suffers a loss. Breasts often lose their fullness and their nipples will change as well.

Menopause causes a radical change in a woman and emotional problems often are part of the deal. Whereas some may feel happy about not having to worry about unplanned pregnancies, birth control methods and monthly "curses", others suffer from just about every negative emotion possible. Nervousness, irritability, sudden crying jags, excessive tiredness and depression are all possible side effects of menopause.

A woman may also suffer from problems with sexuality. Although menopause doesn't need to affect a woman's ability to have sex, it can cause difficulties. The lower level of estrogen can cause vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. Additional foreplay or an over the counter lubricant will often help in this regard. If it doesn't, it is highly suggested the woman consults with her doctor, as it could be a side effect from an underlying cause.

In fact, drastic changes in the monthly cycle, excessively heavy or long times of bleeding, blood after intercourse and periods that are more often than every three weeks should be checked out by a doctor regardless. These can all be symptoms of problems with the uterus or its lining.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have a list of preventative guidelines for women.

It is suggested that a woman receives a pap smear at least once a year. They also recommend a baseline mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40. After 40 but before 50 years of age, a woman should receive a diagnostic mammogram at least every two years. After 50, the program should be increased to once a year.

Besides menopause, the thyroid can affect the moods, hair growth and many other functions of the body. Because of this, a woman should receive a thyroid function screening at least every five years.

Many women suffering from menopause find hormonal supplementation is the best course of action. This requires working with the doctor and allowing him to determine the best dosage for you.

Menopause is a natural part of aging that is going to occur no matter what. In the United States alone, there are more than 30 million women who are postmenopausal. These women enjoy an active and happy life by taking care of themselves and knowing when to call for their doctor's assistance.

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