Menopause occurs 12 months after a woman's last menstrual period and is a normal part of aging, marking the end of a woman's reproductive years. In menopause, the ovaries stop releasing eggs and stop producing most of their estrogen. Menopause typically occurs in the woman's late 40s or early 50s.
Natural menopause is a gradual process with three phases: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.
Perimenopause can begin as much as eight to 10 years before menopause. In perimenopause, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen, with a steeper estrogen decline during the last one to two years before menopause. Perimenopause lasts until menopause, when the ovaries stop releasing eggs.
Menopause occurs when a woman completely stops having menstrual periods. The ovaries stop producing eggs, and estrogen production decreases. Natural menopause normally occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. Some women may experience menopause early, due to surgery (such as surgical removal of the uterus) or damage to the ovaries (such as from chemotherapy).
Postmenopause is the time after menopause when symptoms such as hot flashes can ease. However, decreased estrogen levels may increase a woman’s risk for conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Medication and hormone therapy may reduce the risk for some of these conditions.
Some women may experience problems with urination, such as a sudden urge or leaking of urine when coughing, laughing or lifting (urinary stress incontinence). Other women may experience vaginal dryness, which can cause discomfort and light bleeding during sexual intercourse. Many postmenopausal women may experience weight gain as their metabolism slows. Diet and exercise may help you maintain your weight.