Menopause is the last menstrual period in a woman’s life and marks the end of her reproductive years. Menopause is said to have taken place if there has been no period for 12 months.
Around the time of menopause a woman’s ovaries gradually slow down their production of hormones and eventually stop making oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones that prepare the body for menstruation and childbearing.
During this time however, these hormone levels can fluctuate up and down and a woman may notice changes in her regular menstrual cycle including longer, shorter or irregular cycles, lighter or heavier bleeding, and unpredictable bleeding. Symptoms vary from woman to woman. Some have no symptoms at all, others may experience symptoms and not be bothered by them, whilst some women find them irritating and troubling. These symptoms include hot flushes (often accompanied by sweats, day or night), disturbed sleep, aches and pains, a dry vagina (making sex uncomfortable), reduced sex drive, urinary frequency, headaches and or migraines, forgetfulness and or irritability, mood swings, and dry skin or a crawling or itching sensation.
Few women have all these symptoms and they do not all occur at once. Hot flushes are the most common and often they only cause mild discomfort. Some women only notice these symptoms for a few months, if at all. For others, symptoms may last for years, starting three or four years before their periods stop and continuing for some time after.