By definition, natural menopause occurs when a woman stops having menstrual cycles for 12 months, and the ovaries have stopped producing estrogen because her egg supply is depleted. Menopause marks the end of the reproductive years for a woman and happens, on average, when a woman is 51 years old.
While the main symptom of menopause is the cessation of menstrual periods, women may experience various symptoms during the years leading up to menopause. This period of time, called perimenopause, can begin in a woman’s 30’s or 40’s and continue until menopause. Changes in menstrual bleeding, sleep problems, and vaginal tract or urinary tract changes are common during this time. Sex may become painful due to vaginal dryness or a woman may begin to lose interest in sexual intercourse. The most common symptom associated with perimenopause and menopause is hot flashes. A sudden flash of heat rushing to the upper body or face, lasting a few seconds to a few minutes is a hot flash. Some women experience a few per month while others can have multiple hot flashes per day. Bone loss is also a potential consequence of menopause due to decreased estrogen levels.
Hormone therapy is the best way to relieve hot flashes, mitigate bone loss, and treat other symptoms of menopause. In women who have never had a hysterectomy, a hormone called progestin is prescribed along with a hormone called estrogen. This combination is called “combined hormone therapy”. Taking these two hormones in combination reduce the risk of uterinecancer that can occur when estrogen is taken alone. In women who do not have a uterus, estrogen can be given without progestin. Hormones are typically given in pill, patch, gel, or spray form.