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Menopause

UW Health’s gynecology program provides comprehensive care for women experiencing menopause.


Overview

Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop producing estrogen.

The age at which menopause occurs varies among women, though usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. A woman is considered menopausal when she has not had a period for one year.

The ovaries naturally produce estrogen and progesterone that prepare the uterus for possible pregnancy. As a woman nears menopause, the reduction in hormonal levels may result in irregular menstrual periods, including heavier or lighter periods than what is normal for the woman, skipped periods or periods that stop completely.

During menopause, a woman’s hormonal levels change as her body no longer makes the hormones and the ovaries no longer release eggs. Consequently, a menopausal woman can no longer become pregnant.

Symptoms of Menopause

The symptoms of menopause are caused by the changes in the hormonal levels. The specific symptoms women experience and the degree to which they experience them will vary.

When menopause results from the surgical removal of the ovaries, the symptoms can be more severe due to the sudden change in hormonal levels. Symptoms include:

  • Irregular or no menstrual periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Osteoporosis
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Have a hard time getting sexually aroused
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety

Treatments for Menopause

Treatments for menopause are focused on managing the symptoms, and on preventing or lessoning chronic conditions that may result from the natural aging process.

Several lifestyle changes can help minimize the symptoms commonly experienced during menopause, including:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
  • Dress lightly and in layers
  • Eat soy foods
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Perform Kegel exercises daily to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis
  • Practice slow, deep breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on (try taking six breaths per minute)
  • Remain sexually active
  • Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi or meditation
  • Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse

In addition to lifestyle modifications, your physician might recommend additional treatment depending on your personal health history and the severity of your symptoms, including:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Low-dose antidepressants
  • Bisphosphonates to prevent or treat osteoporosis
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)
  • Vaginal estrogen

Additional Health Concerns for Menopause

The changes in hormonal levels can also cause additional health problems including osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of bones), coronary artery disease, urinary incontinence and weight gain.

Regular check-ups with your primary care physician are an important step in managing and preventing the additional chronic health concerns that may develop with menopause.