Menopause is diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. During the years leading up to this point, a woman may also experience changes in her monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms. This period is known as perimenopause, or the menopausal transition.
For most women, the menopausal transition begins between the ages of 45 and 55. It lasts an average of seven years, but it can be as long as 14 years. During this time, the body's production of estrogen and progesterone will vary widely. Bones will also become less dense, leaving women more vulnerable to fractures.
Symptoms of Menopause
Most women will experience some irregularity in their periods before they end. However, signs and symptoms will largely vary among women. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Mood changes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
Causes of Menopause
Menopause most frequently occurs due to naturally declining reproductive hormones or aging. Once a woman approaches her late 30s, her ovaries naturally begin producing less estrogen and progesterone (the hormones responsible for regulating menstruation) and her fertility will decline. However, surgical removal of the ovaries (also known as an oophorectomy) may also result in menopause.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also induce menopause and cause menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes during or shortly after treatment. Additionally, approximately 1% of women experience premature menopause, or menopause before age 40. This may be due to primary ovarian insufficiency or for no apparent reason at all.
Any woman experiencing menopause symptoms should see a healthcare professional right away, especially if they are 45 years of age or younger. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a new blood test known as the PicoAMH Elisa diagnostic test to determine whether a woman has entered or is getting close to entering menopause.
The PicoAMH Elisa diagnostic test may be especially helpful to women with signs of perimenopause, which comes with various adverse health impacts. Alternatively, a blood test can measure the level of certain hormones in the blood, typically FSH and a form of estrogen known as estradiol. Though saliva tests and over-the-counter (OTC) tests are also available, they are generally unreliable and expensive compared to the labs we can order.
Some women can endure menopause without treatment. Others, however, may have severe symptoms that affect their quality of life. Such women may want to consider hormone therapy, particularly if they are under the age of 60 or within 10 years of the onset of menopause. Hormone therapy can help with:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal atrophy