Women go through several reproductive stages throughout their lives. These include puberty, the fertile period, and menopause. Menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years. During menopause, women may experience uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and sexual changes. An OB/GYN can provide menopause management services to women to help them deal with their symptoms.
Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Without these hormones, ovulation and menstruation stop. Menopause is a retrospective diagnosis made after 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.
Menopause usually occurs naturally as a woman ages, but it can be brought on early by certain medical conditions or procedures. The average woman goes through menopause between the ages of 45 and 58. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the average age for natural menopause in the US is 51.
When menopause occurs before a woman is 45 it is considered early. When it occurs before age 40, it is considered premature. Factors that may contribute to early or premature menopause include:
- Surgical removal of one or both ovaries (oophorectomy)
- Radiation therapy in the pelvic region
- Autoimmune diseases
- Family history
- Missing chromosomes
Signs and Symptoms
Before menopause begins, women experience a transitional stage known as perimenopause. This may also be referred to as the menopausal transition. During this phase, menstrual periods become irregular. It can increase or decrease in frequency. Periods may also be either heavier or lighter. Some women experience menopausal symptoms during perimenopause, but some women have no noticeable symptoms.
After perimenopause, when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, she is in menopause.
During menopause, many women experience the following symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood swings or irritability
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal and urinary tract changes.
For most women, the signs and symptoms of menopause are enough for a doctor to make a diagnosis, and diagnostic tests are not required. However, in cases where other conditions may be causing symptoms, hormone testing may be ordered to rule those conditions out.
Menopause Management & Treatment
Some women only experience a few mild symptoms when they are in the menopausal transition. However, other women may have more intense symptoms that interfere with their daily lives. Luckily, there are treatments available for menopause management.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the most effective treatments used for menopause management. Estrogen is the primary hormone used in HRT to manage the symptoms of menopause. Progesterone may also be added to hormone therapy if a woman still has her uterus. Estrogen helps relieve hot flashes and protects against complications like bone loss or osteoporosis.
Hormone therapy comes in several different forms. It can be taken orally or in formulas that can be absorbed through the skin. There are a variety of topical vaginal estrogen medications that can provide relief from symptoms like vaginal dryness or painful intercourse.
Your OB/GYN can discuss the risks and benefits of HRT with you and decide whether or not it is the right method of menopause management for you.
Your doctor can also prescribe non-hormonal medications to help with menopausal symptoms. These medications may be used in place of HRT or be given to supplement it. These medications include
- SSRI antidepressants to manage hot flashes and treat mood disorders
- Blood pressure medication to control hot flashes
- Medications used to prevent or treat osteoporosis
The team at Kamm McKenzie OB/GYN is experienced in providing quality care for women in all stages of life. That includes providing menopause management services, which may or may not involve hormone replacement therapy. Call us at 919-781-6200 to make an appointment.