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What Is Menopause?

Menopause is the transitional period in a woman's life when her ovaries start producing less of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopause is declared when a woman ceases to have a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months, marking the end of her reproductive years. A woman who has her ovaries surgically removed immediately enters menopause.

Natural menopause is a gradual process, beginning with perimenopause, or premenopause, usually starting in a woman's 40s or even 30s. Perimenopause can last up to 10 years, as the menstrual cycle tapers off and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings may begin.

Other physical and psychological changes that may occur throughout menopause and the postmenopausal years include irregular heartbeat, headaches, insomnia, irritability, depression, and anxiety, along with cognitive symptoms like forgetfulness. Menopause is also associated with problems such as vaginal dryness, painful sexual intercourse, urine leakage, and joint pain.

How to Treat Hot Flashes

Eventually, vasomotor symptoms of menopause like hot flashes will abate but there are treatments and strategies that offer some relief. Lifestyle practices, such as regular exercise, maintaining a cool core body temperature, and paced breathing (six to eight breaths per minute, for 15 minutes, twice a day at the onset of hot flashes) can be effective for some women. Short term use of nonprescription remedies like black cohosh and isoflavones from soy foods or supplements may help others. Hormone therapy and non-hormonal medications are available by prescription for severe and disruptive symptoms.

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