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Oct 2023

What is menopause? And how is it diagnosed?

Posted By Suborna Fermi Posted on Oct 07, 2023

Menopause is not a health condition, it is the point in time where a woman’s reproductive years end. Generally, menopause happens at the age of 51. However, this situation can cause certain effects on the body. Menopause is diagnosed with a certain test that measures hormone levels.

What is menopause?

Menopause is a natural process in a woman's body that happens when the ovaries stop releasing mature eggs. In this situation, the body does not produce enough estrogen which helps in the menstruation cycle, and progesterone which is essential for pregnancy. These changes in hormones can impact a woman's physical as well as mental health.

Are there any stages of menopause?

Menopause is a gradual process that develops in three stages, such as:

  • Perimenopause: This stage is often known as the “menopause transition”, because at this stage the ovaries start to produce less estrogen. This stage begins 8 to 10 years before the menopause stage, for example, it mainly begins when you are in your 40s. In this stage, the ovaries also stop releasing mature eggs. However, as you are still menstruating at this stage, you can get pregnant.
  • Menopause: When you have not had menstruation for the past 12 months, this stage is called menopause. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing estrogen.
  • Post-menopause: This is the stage where you have not had menstruation throughout the year. At this stage, the symptoms of menopause begin to improve. As the body does not produce enough estrogen during the postmenopausal stage, there is an increased risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

When you are transitioning into the menopause stage, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Irregular periods (heavy or light bleeding)
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Frequent urination
  • Hot flashes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Night sweats
  • Dry eyes, skin, and mouth
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings

Other symptoms people may also have include:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Headache
  • Weight gain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Hair thinning
  • Low libido
  • Difficulties in concentrating

Why does menopause happen?

The menstrual cycle begins at the puberty stage, and as we grow older, our reproductive cycle also begins to slow down. When you are transitioning into the menopause stage, the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen hormone. As estrogen levels decrease, the menstrual cycles also get irregular and then completely stop. People may experience physical as well as mental changes due to the hormonal imbalance. Some people experience symptoms during perimenopause as well as menopause, while others experience symptoms for a long period of time.

What is early menopause?

Menopause occurring between the ages of 40 and 45 is called early menopause. If you begin to experience signs of menopause before the age of 40, then it might indicate premature menopause. There are multiple factors that can contribute to early or premature menopause. Common causes include:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disorders
  • Radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment
  • Removal of ovaries and uterus
  • Chromosomal defects, such as Turner’s syndrome
  • A family history of early or premature menopause

Early menopause can increase your risk of developing heart disease and osteoporosis. Therefore, if you are having signs or symptoms of menopause before turning 40, then consult your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will recommend tests to diagnose your condition and help you manage your health.

How is menopause diagnosed?

To diagnose menopause, your doctor will first ask you about your menstrual cycle over the last year. After that, your doctor will recommend hormone tests to diagnose menopause.

What hormone tests are used to diagnose menopause?

In the first half of your menstrual cycle, the anterior pituitary gland releases a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone helps in the production of estradiol and stimulates egg maturation.

Estradiol is a hormone that has many functions in our body, but in females, it helps to manage the menstrual cycle and support the reproductive tract. During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels decrease and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels increase.

Your doctor may order tests to check the levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen in your body. As hypothyroidism also causes symptoms similar to menopause, your doctor might also recommend a test to check the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in your body. Apart from these tests, measuring the levels of anti-mullerian hormone can help the doctors determine when you will enter your menopause stage.

What happens after the diagnosis of menopause?

Menopause is a natural phase of a woman's life; some people do not need any treatment for this condition, while others may require treatment if the symptoms are very severe. Your doctor may recommend certain medications or therapies to cope with the symptoms that are affecting your life. Hormone therapy and non-hormonal treatments are the most common treatments for menopause. Have a clear conversation with your doctor about what treatment plan will be best for you.

The main two types of hormone therapies include:

  • Estrogen therapy: In this therapy, your doctor will recommend taking low-dose estrogen, which comes in many forms, such as pills, patches, creams, gels, sprays and vaginal rings.
  • Estrogen-progesterone hormone therapy: This is combination therapy where you need to take doses of estrogen as well as progesterone.

What are non-hormonal therapies?

Hormonal therapies are beneficial for relieving symptoms, but they are not suitable for all. Non-hormonal therapies are suitable for everyone and best for people with an existing health condition. Non-hormonal therapies include:

  • Changing your diet
  • Doing regular exercise
  • Taking precautions to avoid hot flashes
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol

After your diagnosis of menopause, make sure to have regular checkups to avoid any health complications and to lead a healthy life as you grow older.