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What Is Climacteric?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated May 17, 2024
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Climacteric is the complete stopping of the reproductive capacity for women and the gradual decrease in the reproductive capacity for men. In women, this process is known as menopause, typically begins in their late thirties, and is marked by the loss of both estrogen and progesterone. Menopausal women experience the gradual cessation of menstruation and eventually the complete loss of fertility. In men, climacteric is called andropause, and it is a more gradual decrease in the production of the hormones, testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (5-DHEA), beginning around age 35. The symptoms of andropause are typically not experienced until significant testosterone and 5-DHEA has been lost at age 55 or later, but not all men experience symptoms.

Menopause is the common name for climacteric in women. This process typically occurs gradually over a two to ten year period beginning in the late thirties and is considered complete, typically around age 51, when a woman fails to menstruate for one full year. During the process of menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen and progesterone, causing fewer viable eggs to ripen, diminishing fertility to the point of infertility. In addition, the menstrual cycle becomes irregular and eventually stops. During this time, many women experience symptoms such as loss of bone density, hot flashes, sleep problems, mood swings, loss of hair, propensity to retain abdominal fat, and a reduced sex drive.

Surgery to remove the ovaries or a complete hysterectomy to remove the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes will cause abrupt absence of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This brings about an earlier than normal onset of menopause as well as a shorter and often more difficult menopause. Chemotherapy can also cause a temporary stoppage of menstruation or can permanently damage the ovaries, bringing on premature menopause.

Andropause is the male form of climacteric. Beginning around the age of 35, the male body will start to produce less testosterone and 5-DHEA. The male process of climacteric is very gradual, and often the physiological impact of this moderate loss of testosterone and 5-DHEA will go unnoticed. For some men around age 55, the accumulative loss of these hormones will produce symptoms such as a decreased sexual drive, impotency, depression, loss of bone density, fatigue, and sleep problems. The difference between menopause and andropause is that menopause ends with the total inability of women to reproduce, and andropause only sometimes results in the slight or occasional impairment of the reproductive capacity of men.

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