Menopause is defined as the point in time when a woman’s periods have stopped as a natural result of aging. Periods can stop for a while and then start again, so a woman is considered to have been through menopause only after a full year without periods. After menopause, a woman cannot get pregnant. The average age of menopause is 51, but for some women it occurs in their late 40’s or later in their 50’s.
Signs and Symptoms
The hormone changes that happen around menopause affect every woman differently. Also, symptoms may occur that aren’t associated with menopause, but instead with other aspects of aging. Changes that occur around menopause include:
- Irregular periods. They may happen more often or less often, last more days or fewer, and the flow of tissue and blood may be lighter or heavier.
- Hot flashes (or flushes). These occur as sudden feelings of heat throughout the body, especially the upper body, flushing of the face and neck, red blotches on the chest, back, and arms, and heavy sweating and cold shivering after the flash.
- Trouble sleeping. There may be trouble sleeping through the night and night sweats, in which hot flashes cause sweating during sleep.
- Vaginal and urinary problems. These include drier and thinner vaginal walls, which can make sexual activity uncomfortable, even painful. More infections in the vagina and/or urinary tract may occur, as well as urinary incontinence (inability to hold urine long enough to get to the bathroom.)
- Mood changes. These include mood swings, crying, and feeling irritable.
- Sexual interest. Women may lose interest in sex or feel more comfortable with expressing their sexuality.
- Other changes. Changes may occur due to decreasing hormone levels or to normal aging, such as forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, loss of muscle, gaining fat, and a larger waist. Feeling stiff or achy may also happen.