What is menopause?
Menopause is the time at which a woman’s ovaries cease to function. The transition to menopause is a gradual one, and the duration of this transition differs depending on the individual. This transitionary period is called perimenopause. The average age of menopause onset in the U.S. is 51 years, although menopause can occur in women between their 30s and 60s. At present, the time at which menopause will occur cannot be predicted. However, certain environmental factors, such as smoking, can lead to early menopause onset.
Perimenopausal symptoms can range in severity from mild to severe and vary in frequency. Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal bleeding ranging from heavy bledding to less frequent and lighter periods, vaginal symptoms including vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, frequent urination, and psychological symptoms including anxiety, moodiness, and irritability. These symptoms can change in severity until menopause occurs.
How is menopause diagnosed?
Menopause is diagnosed as the lack of menstrual periods for one year and is correlated with a blood panel that measures the hormones involved in regulating a woman’s period. There are times when a woman ceases to have a period for a full year, but her hormone profile is that of a youthful, premenopausal woman. In these cases, the cause of menopause is distinct from the normal, hormonal causes and can result from, for example, polycystic ovary syndrome, severe anemia, or hypothyroidism, and must be defined and addressed.
How is menopause managed?
Each woman experiences menopause differently. Some women going through perimenopause and menopause will have symptoms that are mild or otherwise manageable. In these cases, hot flashes may last only a few weeks and then disappear. For other women, they may feel miserable with night sweats, hot flashes and vaginal dryness that can affect how they live their daily lives. True to an integrative medicine practice, we have options to treat menopause. These range from herbal treatments to bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to manage these symptoms and enhance quality of life. In some cases, a combination of herbal therapies and hormone replacement therapy is appropriate to manage menopause symptoms. Either way, you will have a thorough discussion with your doctor on the benefits and side effects of these treatments as well as the clinical research and misconceptions, and, together, you’ll determine the best treatment option for you.