Menopause is defined as the point in a woman’s life when menstrual periods cease. This event occurs because the ovaries stop producing the female sexual hormones estrogen and progesterone, effectively stopping a woman’s ability to become pregnant, as well as starting a range of bodily changes. Menopause is defined as occurring 12 months following the last menstrual period, occurring at an average age of 51 years. The period leading up to menopause is known as peri-menopause, and may be characterized by missed periods of increasing frequency. If menopause begins to occur before the age of 40, a visit to a physician is warranted to investigate other uncommon causes.

SYMPTOMS

The most common symptoms leading up to menopause include increasingly irregular periods, osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, weight gain and slowed metabolism, thinning hair and dry skin, breast tissue shrinkage,
These changes may lead to symptoms like hot flashes. Some symptoms can last for months or years after a woman's period stops. There is no way to tell in advance how long it will take you to go through the menopausal transition. It could take between two and eight years.

SELF HELP MEASURES

Although no treatment exists to halt or reverse menopause, it is suggested that regular physician visits be conducted to address preventative health measures as well as to address any concerns.
Menopausal women should be advised to eat well, consuming a complete and full diet. Lower estrogen levels may contribute to aging and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. In particular, many menopausal women require Vitamin B6 and B12 supplements to maintain regular moods, and increased daily Calcium and Vitamin D (1200mg/400IU). Post-menopausal women who have experienced prior chronic menstruation may also require iron supplementation. Depending on bone loss, a physician may also prescribe medications that help decrease further bone loss.
Exercise is also another crucial tool used to maintain a healthy body. Generally accepted goals are 2.5 hours per week of moderate aerobic physical activity per week, and weight bearing exercises on 2 days per week. To deal with hot flashes, women are advised to avoid spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, stress, and hotter environments. Other helpful measures could include prescription low-dose oral contraceptive pills, which would provide relief by stopping the menstrual cycle altogether.
Some women may take prescription menopausal hormone therapy, which balances the hormonal imbalance and thus effectively treats hot flashes and night sweats. The use of hormonal therapy however is associated with some risks, and a general physician would be able to adequately assess risk. A general physician may also recommend other prescription medications to aid in the control of hot flash symptoms.
Vaginal dryness can be alleviated by using water-based lubricants like KY Jelly or Astroglide to make sex more comfortable. Long acting moisturizers such as Replens may also help retain vaginal moisture. Insomnia is another common side effect of menopause. Symptoms can be alleviated by reducing caffeine intake later in the day, having frequent exercise earlier in the day, avoiding naps, and avoiding bright backlit lights in the hour before sleep.
Women who smoke and consume excessive amounts of alcohol should also be encouraged to stop as these activities also weaken the bones, and increase other health risks such as infection, clots, and tumors.
Women who experience drier vaginas are encouraged to attempt more sexual activity to counter vaginal dystrophy, and to allow for greater time to achieve adequate moisture. Pelvic floor exercises are also advised to help increase vaginal blood flow, and strengthen the muscles involved in orgasms.
Menopausal women would also be advised to avoid irritating bath products such as strong soaps, and to avoid vaginal douching.

MONITORING
Some common tests which may be used to monitor menopausal health would include regular pelvic exams, and a Pap smear test every three years. Mammograms and bone density scans may also be suggested, as well as urinary examinations to address possible incontinence issues.





ALTERNATIVE MEDICINES

In recent years, many alternative treatment regimens have been brought to the market place for the treatment of menopause. The plant based herbs are largely based on plant sourced estrogen hormones, which once consumed work to balance the hormonal imbalance inherent to menopause.

ImagePhytoestrogens have largely been sourced from Soy beans and other similar foods. The two primary types of phytoestrogens are currently isoflavones and lignans. Study results have been mixed thus far, and certain types yield a risk of increased cancer risk due to their similarity to estrogen.

Bioidentical hormones have also arisen, and are chemically identical to naturally produced hormones. Many preparations however are unregulated, so it is important to use only government approved formulations.

Black Cohosh is a commonly used OTC herbal remedy, and has shown popularity among menopausal women. Results remain mixed however, and excessive use can be harmful to the liver.


Other supplements such as red clover, kava, dong quai, DHEA, evening primrose oil and wild yam (natural progesterone cream). The efficacy of these substances has yet to be established however, and poor regulation of purity may yield harm thus use is not recommended.