Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and it can have a significant impact on a woman’s health.
Although menopause can cause many troubling symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, it can also begin a rewarding phase of a woman’s life.
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What Causes Menopause?
Age is the leading cause of menopause. It’s the end of a woman’s potential childbearing years, brought on by the ovaries gradually slowing down their function. Certain surgeries and medical treatment can induce menopause. Those include surgical removal of the ovaries (bilateral oopharectomy), chemotherapy, and pelvic radiation therapy. Having a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) without removing the ovaries does not lead to menopause, although you will not have periods anymore.
When Does Menopause Start?
On average, women are 51 at natural menopause, notes the National Institute on Aging. But menopause can start earlier or later. A few women start menopause as young as 40, and a very small percentage as late as 60. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause a few years earlier than nonsmokers. There is no proven way to predict menopause age. It’s only after a woman has missed her periods for 12 straight months, without other obvious causes, that menopause can be confirmed.
What Is Perimenopause?
Natural menopause happens gradually. The ovaries don’t abruptly stop working; they slow down. The transition to menopause is called perimenopause. Menopause is a milestone — it’s the day that marks 12 months in a row since a woman’s last period. During perimenopause, it’s still possible to get pregnant — a woman’s childbearing years are winding down, and although her periods may become more unpredictable, her ovaries are still functioning and she still may ovulate, though not necessarily on a monthly basis.