When a woman stops ovulating, and this is not temporary, as occurs during pregnancy, this is often called menopause. Menopause is actually defined as a woman having no period for twelve consecutive months and total end of ovarian function. All women eventually reach menopause, usually in their early 50s, though some can begin earlier or later. Sometimes the condition is induced much earlier surgically, if a woman needs to have her ovaries removed, as might be part of a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).
It’s a little complicated to explain menopause, since it’s often expressed as something women go through, and this typically means more than the final end of ovulation. During the years leading up to cessation of ovarian function, people may be described as in menopause, though the better term might be in perimenopause. Perimenopause means the years, which can be up to ten years, prior to the end of ovulation.
Symptoms of menopause that is actually perimenopause are varied and affect women in different ways. They can include great changes in menstrual cycle. Sometimes the menstrual cycle becomes more frequent; other times periods get heavier or lighter. Spotting is not uncommon, and irregularity is one of the hallmark symptoms of menopause.
For many women, one of the symptoms of menopause or perimenopause that is most recognizable is the hot flash. Hot flashes are a warm feelings that may spread through the body and be extremely uncomfortable. They can last for a few minutes and they can actually begin long before ovulation ends, with about 4 in 10 women beginning to have them in their early 40s. Another uncomfortable symptom is night sweats, and most people note this when they wake up in the middle of the night and have soaked through clothing. It may help to use fewer blankets at night or sleep by an open window.
During and after menopause, women may experience increased vaginal dryness. Vaginal secretions are in part produced by the normal rise and fall of estrogen in the body. As estrogen levels decline, this can result in dryness and in conditions like atrophic vaginitis, which can cause pain during intercourse.
Other symptoms of menopause can include trouble maintaining weight or weight gain, some hair growth on the face, urinary incontinence and greater risk of bladder infections, disinterest in sex or loss of libido, skin itching, breakouts on the skin, increased signs of aging of the skin, and fatigue. Many women also note significant changes in mood and some have described this as similar to having PMS, but having it most of the time instead of a day or two a month. Moods may change and anxiety or depression may heighten. Severe mood changes may truly require treatment if symptoms last unabated for more than a few weeks.
After menopause fully occurs, some symptoms remain, while others cease. Vaginal dryness can be an ongoing problem, but any bleeding once menopause is truly over is a cause for concern. Decline in estrogen may also create continued weight issues for some women. Another thing that occurs is loss of bone density, though this may be gradual and most affects women who are smaller in build. Women are advised to have scans for osteoporosis when they are postmenopausal and to take calcium on a regular basis.