Menopause can be a scary or confusing idea.
After a lifetime of dealing with periods, now there is new, foreign territory to explore as your hormone levels drop and your body starts changing.
Individualization is key in the decision to use hormone therapy.
Wondering what to expect? Cedars-Sinai’s Dr. Erica Wang answers some common questions.
What is menopause? What are the common symptoms?
Dr. Wang: Menopause is when menstrual periods stop naturally, defined as 12 months of not having a period.
Before this happens, women go through a perimenopausal period with common symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleep disturbances, which can start 4-5 years before periods stop.
The average woman enters menopause naturally as a result of aging in her early 50s. Other women experience perimenopause and menopause sooner due to surgery or treatment for certain illnesses.
What health risks do I need to be aware of for menopause?
Dr. Wang: Menopausal symptoms can affect quality of life.
Menopause is a low-estrogen state and some of the health risks include bone loss (osteoporosis) and cardiovascular disease.
Do I need to continue birth control if I’m going through menopause?
Dr. Wang: Women do not have to continue birth control once they are officially in menopause and have not had a period for 12 months.
What options do I have to relieve symptoms? What are the risks associated?
Dr. Wang: The best option for relieving menopausal symptoms is hormone therapy, but it does increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis.
You should speak with your doctor about your specific situation and risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.
Individualization is key in the decision to use hormone therapy. Hormone therapy is an acceptable option for treating menopausal symptoms in women who are going through the perimenopause transition, or within 3-5 years of their last period.
There are also non-hormonal options for hot flashes, such as lifestyle-related strategies or low-dose SSRI medications.
How do I know when menopause is over?
Dr. Wang: The perimenopause transition is over after 12 months of not having a period. After that, women are considered menopausal, but they can continue having symptoms for years. It’s different for every woman.