What is menopause?
Menopause refers to the time in a woman's life when she stops having a menstrual period and is no longer fertile.
During menopause, a woman's ovaries stop releasing eggs, and the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone. Changes in these hormones cause symptoms of menopause. Periods occur less often and eventually stop. Although this typically is a gradual process that happens over time, in some cases, a woman's periods will stop suddenly.
Menopause is complete when a woman has not had a period in 12 consecutive months.
All women experience menopause, usually between ages 45 and 55.1 The average age of menopause is 51, but it occurs earlier in some women. Women who smoke may begin menopause earlier than women who don't smoke.2
However, the first symptoms or signs of menopause can begin several years earlier when levels of estrogen and progesterone first begin to fluctuate.1 This phase leading up to a woman's last menstrual period is called perimenopause. The period of time after menopause is called postmenopause, a phase that lasts for the rest of a woman's life.
Surgical or medical menopause is the term for a decrease in estrogen that is a result of surgery to remove the ovaries or uterus, or medical treatments such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy to treat breast cancer.1
- MedlinePlus. (2011). Menopause. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000894.htm [top]
- Fleming, L. E., Levis S., LeBlanc, W. G., Dietz, N. A., Arheart, K. L., Wilkinson, J. D., et al. (2008). Earlier age at menopause, work, and tobacco smoke exposure. Menopause, 15, 1103–1108. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18626414 [top]