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Menopause is the depletion of a woman's eggs (ova) and the complete cessation of the menstrual cycle. Menopause, commonly known as "the change", marks the end of a woman's ability to conceive children. Menopause is a natural and normal condition that most women experience as they age. Menopause generally occurs naturally after the age of about 45.
In some women menopause can also occur earlier in life as a result of some medical conditions, treatments, or surgeries. These include hormonal treatment for endometriosis, hysterectomy (removal of the womb), radiation treatment, chemotherapy, and some immune system diseases. When menopause occurs before the mid-40s, weather natural or due to medical causes, it is called early menopause, sometimes known as premature ovarian failure. Early menopause can result in infertility or sub-fertility at a young age.
Perimenopause is the condition that occurs during the handful of years leading up to menopause.
At menopause, the woman's body makes less female hormones, especially estrogen. Falling levels of hormones result in the symptoms of menopause. Symptoms vary between women and can include irregular periods, hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, weight gain, breast tenderness and stress incontinence. Vaginal dryness, discomfort with sex, and a loss of libido can also occur.
Making a diagnosis of menopause begins with a taking thorough medical history, including symptoms, and performing a physical examination, including a pelvic examination. During a pelvic examination, a physician or nurse practitioner checks for any abnormalities of the reproductive organs and structures by palpation and by looking with a lighted instrument called a vaginal speculum. Small samples of the cervix are generally taken for a Pap smear test to screen for cervical cancer. Samples are often taken to test for sexually transmitted diseases as well.
Diagnostic testing for menopause may include the blood FSH test, which measures blood levels of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). A blood test may also be done that measures estradiol levels. Estradiol is a type of the hormone estrogen, and levels of it decline at or just before menopause.
A missed or delayed diagnosis of menopause is possible because symptoms of menopause can mimic symptoms of other conditions, such as depression. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of menopause.
Treatment of menopause is tailored to the individual case, the severity of symptoms, and the presence of any complications. Treatment to control bothersome symptoms of menopause may include hormone replacement therapy medications. These medications can have serious side effects are not appropriate for many women. Other medications and treatments that have fewer side effects are available to help control symptoms of menopause. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of menopause....more »
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