“What is menopause?” That’s a question that almost every woman who has managed to hang onto her reproductive organs, or at the very least her ovaries, will ask at some point (probably in her 40’s or 50’s).
It is a rare woman who just sails right through this period in her life effortlessly, though a few do manage to pull it off. The same things that cause hormonal imbalances before menopause can really cause the symptoms of menopause to go haywire.
There are two different attitudes of women with reaching menopause: Those who embrace the change and welcome the absence of their monthly menstrual cycles (including freedom from the ‘risk’ of pregnancy) and those are sad and moody that the childbearing years have passed them.
No matter which camp you are in, menopause is inevitable.
So, obviously, as always you’ll make your life easier for yourself by practicing acceptance. The more you accept what is the easier you life becomes.
Also, the more you KNOW about the many answers to the ‘what is menopause?’ question, the better prepared, and the off you are when it’s your turn to go through the change.
So, for a bunch of answers to ‘what is menopause?’, please read on!
Menopause, in Technical Terms
Menopause comes from the Greek, the word “men” means month and “pausis” where we get the word “pause” means to cease. The word aptly tells of the time in a woman’s life when her monthly cycles literally stop.
Even a woman without her uterus and with the absence of the menstrual bleeding will go through this time if she still has her ovaries.
Menopause is the time when a woman’s body goes through the transition of “child-bearing” years to the non-reproductive time.
It is a time in which the ovaries stop maturing and releasing eggs.
It is the time when the uterus is no longer lined and the shedding of the lining ceases (the menstrual period).
Menopause marks the end of fertility and brings on the changes, which marks the end of the monthly cycle.
Menopause can happen normally around the 40’s and 50’s, though rarely it can occur much sooner or later, depending on a number of possible reasons.
What Causes It to Happen?
The ovaries play a big role in menopause.
When a baby girl (fetus) is developing in her mother’s womb, her ovaries develop with all the eggs she will ever have in her life. Those eggs actually start aging at that point. They only have a certain amount of years in them.
Some women’s eggs will last longer than others will.
Generally, a woman can look to her mother and older siblings to receive a look at how her body may react to menopause. Normally the reproductive years are about 30 to 40 years long. However, other things may provoke the onset of menopause a lot earlier.
What To Do When It Happens Prematurely
Natural aging brings on menopause for most women; however, other things can contribute to it starting earlier than normal. Obviously, a complete hysterectomy will cause menopause to happen immediately upon the removal of the ovaries.
Also, if a woman has to undergo chemotherapy for some reason, it can damage the ovaries and cause the onset of menopause.
Regardless of why menopause is happening, if it occurs prior to age 40 it is called premature menopause. One thing is certain: menopause will happen … either naturally with aging, or with the help of surgery or other conditions (physical ailments that directly affect the reproductive organs).
Natural menopause happens when a woman reaches the time when her monthly cycles cease without any reason other than aging. This takes place over a period of time. This period called perimenopause and lasts for a couple of years and during this pre menopause time the ovaries slowly stop producing eggs.
During the perimenopause he production of the hormone estrogen declines.
Once this happens, the symptoms of menopause make their appearances. For many women, this is a dreaded season of life. However, it need not be so dreaded, because there are ways to cope with the early menopause symptoms and make them less severe.
Really, to know what is menopause, a woman needs to have a complete year with no menstrual cycles. It is at that point that she can claim she has gone through “the change.”
A year minus the periods means that the ovaries have officially shut down. They are no longer maturing and releasing eggs. At this point, the hormone estrogen declines dramatically. Nevertheless, hang on; it is during this critical time that those more or less nasty signs of menopause start to rear their ugly head.
You have probably seen women in their latter 40’s and 50’s, frantically fanning themselves, and eluding to the fact that they have reached ‘the hot flashes after menopause stage’, giving the expression ‘a hot chick’ a whole new meaning.
What is Menopause when It Comes Too Early?
Please note that for some people genetics may play a role in the “change” coming earlier rather than later. Premature menopause can happen for several reasons aside from genetics, as discussed above, certain medical surgeries and procedures and having a type of autoimmune disorder.
What is menopause that comes from premature ovarian failure? The ovaries are responsible for producing and regulating some of the “reproductive” hormones. If there is an imbalance in these hormones, in particular estrogen and progesterone, the ovaries may be in failure. This occurs when the ovaries start to shut down earlier than age 40, the production of eggs cease.
Sometimes this occurs before a woman is ready to stop having children.
The good news is that premature ovarian failure, though it puts a woman into pre menopause, it is reversible with hormone therapy. However, for the women who do not care of have more children, they may just allow it to take its course.
What is menopause when it comes about by the removal of the ovaries? If a woman is at risk, or has ovarian cancer, or who has tumors or cysts, or scarred ovaries, they may opt to have them surgically removed. Endometriosis and uterine cancer are other reasons for the removal of the ovaries.
In addition, medical procedures like chemotherapy or radiation will cause the ovaries to shut down and throw the woman into menopause, immediately following these procedures. She will start having signs of menopause almost immediately.
How To Recognise Menopause Symptoms?
The symptoms of menopause may start gradually during the pre-menopause stage; these are early menopause symptoms. Normally these are when the monthly bleeding cycles start spacing apart, then finally cease.
The signs of menopause start in earnest, about a year after the last cycle, and can last up to three years. The number one sign are the hot flashes. This is one of the most dreaded signs for women, because most women feel that sweating is not very “lady like.” However, this is an unpleasant fact, though it is quite natural and not the end of the world.
What connects bladder issues, depression, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, joint pains, muscle aches, mood swings, racing heart, vaginal dryness, and libido changes? Well, all these things are symptoms of menopause.
A woman may experience all of them, a few of them, or none of them. The existence and severity of such signs of menopause are dependent upon the balance of her hormones at the time menopause starts to happen. The more the hormones are imbalanced the worse the symptoms.
Happily there are things that help to remedy the menopause symptoms, such as herbs and creams as well as adding extra hormones, either locally (e.g. in the vagina) or (in the more severe cases) at a general level.
The age menopause hits is when you start to notice the signs and symptoms of menopause as discussed above.
Many women will seek the advice of their doctor if they are not quite feeling right, and their doctor may determine they are starting menopause.
A hormone test (follicle stimulating hormone) can determine the onset of menopause – the FSH levels will rise. The thought is that this hormone rises in a last ditch effort to cause the ovaries to mature the last eggs before they shut down completely.
A pap smear can also alert to impending menopause.
What Are Menopause Issues?
After menopause has passed, women are at risk for certain ailments. The decrease in the production of reproductive hormones causes a higher risk for certain conditions like heart issues, osteoporosis, bladder and bowel issues, skin wrinkling, and other health issues.
Having a good physical exam with your physician and discussing your family history will help them to come up with a good preventative plan to combat these conditions.
All this sounds scary, but just look at the many elderly women walking around today and realize that it is a perfectly natural thing and does not equal a death sentence. 🙂
To answer the question what is menopause simply, it is the time when a woman quits having her monthly menstrual cycles, the couple of years prior and the after the complete cessation. This time can happen earlier than normal if a woman has a reproductive condition like PCOS or endometriosis or has to undergo a hysterectomy.
Menopause is a normal part of life and does not need to be dreaded or feared.
Approaching it armed with knowledge of what is happening in the body and a willingness to take good care of your health, will help this time to be less stressful.
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What is Menopause?