What Menopause Means

Today more than ever, menopause is being accepted as a normal stage of a woman's life--not a disease. True, this change of life is marked by hormonal shifts that can cause symptoms, and leave women more vulnerable to certain diseases. However, with the growing array of options available today, often these symptoms can be controlled and the diseases prevented.

By definition, menopause is the absence of menstrual periods for 6-12 months in a row and an elevated FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) level. The cessation of menstruation indicates that there are no remaining follicles left in the ovaries. This leads to an end of ovarian estrogen production.

Most women associate menopause with the lack of menstruation, as well as the symptoms that are most prevalent roughly five years before and five years after their last period. The few years before and after the last period are known as "perimenopause" and "climacteric". Perimenopause is heralded by the onset of irregular periods. The climacteric is a more encompassing term that defines the transitional time from the reproductive to the post-reproductive years. During perimenopause, symptoms may include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia and mood swings.

The good news is that more options exist than ever before for treating the symptoms of menopause and preventing the diseases associated with it. They range from behavioral modifications such as nutrition and exercise to medical treatments, one of which is hormone replacement therapy.

Indeed, your experience of menopause will be defined by a variety of lifestyle and genetic factors that are unique to you. Similarly, barring serious medical conditions, your approach to treatment can also be tailored to your personal choices. In short, like all changes, menopause presents a challenge--a challenge that can bring greater rewards when you are informed about it and your options.