Menopause is defined as having no menstrual period for one year. The age it starts can vary, but it typically occurs in your late 40s or early 50s. Menopause can cause many changes in your body.

Menopause symptoms are the result of a decreased production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries. Symptoms can include hot flashes, weight gain, or vaginal dryness.

Vaginal atrophy contributes to vaginal dryness. This happens due to inflammation and thinning of vaginal tissue, which can make sex uncomfortable.

Menopause can actually increase your risk of developing certain conditions, like osteoporosis. But you may find that getting through menopause requires little medical attention. Or, you may decide you need to discuss symptoms and treatment options with a doctor.

Here are 11 things every woman should know about menopause.

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The average age menopause begins is 51 years old.

The majority of women stop having periods somewhere between ages 45 and 55. Your ovary function may start declining years before that for some people. Others will continue to have periods into their late 50s.

The age of menopause onset is believed to be genetically determined, but factors such as smoking or chemotherapy can accelerate ovary decline, resulting in earlier menopause.

Perimenopause refers to the period of time right before menopause begins.

During perimenopause, your body is beginning the transition into menopause. That means that ovarian hormone production is beginning to decline.

You may begin to have some symptoms commonly associated with menopause, like hot flashes. Your menstrual cycle may become irregular, but it won’t stop during the perimenopause stage.

Once you completely stop having a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months, you’ve entered menopause.

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause. Research from 2019 reports that 80% of women have hot flashes during menopause.

Hot flashes can occur anytime — day or night. Some people may also have sudden changes in mood or muscle and joint pain, known as arthralgia.

It can sometimes be difficult to figure out if these symptoms are caused by changing hormones, life circumstances, or a natural part of aging.

During a hot flash, you’ll likely feel your body temperature rise.

Hot flashes affect the top half of your body, and your skin may even flush, turn red, or even become blotchy. This rush of heat can lead to sweating, heart palpitations, and dizziness. After the hot flash, you may feel cold.

Hot flashes can happen daily or even several times a day. You may have them for just one year or over several years.

Avoiding triggers may reduce the number of hot flashes you have. Hot flash triggers can include:

  • consuming alcohol or caffeine
  • eating spicy foods
  • feeling stressed
  • being somewhere hot

Smoking or having a higher body weight may also make hot flashes worse.

To help reduce hot flashes, you could try:

  • Dressing in layers: Layers can make it easy to adapt to changing temperatures. You can also use a fan in your home or office space.
  • Doing breathing exercises: You may be able to minimize symptoms of hot flashes if you do breathing exercises during them.
  • Reaching out to a doctor about medications: Fezolinetant (Veozah) is a neurokinin 3 (NK3) receptor antagonist that was FDA-approved in 2023 to treat hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause. You may also be recommended other medications off-label to help with hot flashes, such as birth control pills and hormone therapies.

See a doctor if you’re having difficulty managing hot flashes on your own.

Hot flash prevention
  • Avoid triggers like spicy foods, caffeine, or alcohol. Smoking may also make hot flashes worse.
  • Dress in layers.
  • Use a fan at work or in your home to help cool you down.
  • Talk with a healthcare professional about medications that may help reduce hot flashes.

The decline in estrogen production can affect the amount of calcium in your bones. This can significantly decrease bone density, leading to a condition known as osteoporosis.

It can also make you more likely to experience hip, spine, and other bone fractures.

Many women experience accelerated bone loss during the first few years after their last menstrual period.

To keep your bones healthy:

  • Eat foods with lots of calcium, such as dairy products or dark leafy greens.
  • Take vitamin D supplements.
  • Exercise regularly and include weight training in your exercise routine.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid smoking.

There are prescription medications you may want to discuss with a doctor to prevent bone loss as well.

Not all people experience symptoms of heart conditions during menopause, though some people do experience dizziness or cardiac palpitations.

Decreased estrogen levels can prevent your body from retaining flexible arteries. This can impact blood flow.

Maintaining a healthy weight for your body, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking can all reduce your chances of developing heart conditions.

Changes in hormone levels may cause you to gain weight. However, aging can also naturally contribute to weight gain.

Focusing on eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and practicing other healthy habits can help you maintain a healthy weight for your body. Being overweight can increase anyone’s chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

Weight management
  • Focus on a healthy lifestyle to manage your weight, if needed.
  • Eat a well-rounded diet that includes increasing calcium and reducing sugar intake.
  • Engage in 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes a week of more intense exercise, such as running.
  • Don’t forget to include strength exercises in your routine.

The symptoms of menopause vary from one woman to another, even in the same families. Ovary function declines at different rates and ages.

This means you’ll need to manage your menopause individually. What worked for your mom or best friend may not work for you.

Talk with a healthcare professional if you have any questions about menopause. They can help you understand your symptoms and find ways to manage them that work with your lifestyle.

If your uterus was surgically removed through a hysterectomy, you may not know you’re going through menopause unless you experience symptoms like hot flashes.

This can also happen if you’ve had an endometrial ablation and your ovaries weren’t removed. Endometrial ablation is the removal of the lining of your uterus to treat heavy menstruation.

If you aren’t having any symptoms, a blood test can determine if your ovaries are still functioning. This test can be used to help doctors find out your estrogen levels, which may be beneficial if you’re at risk of osteoporosis.

Knowing your estrogen levels may be important in determining whether you need a bone density assessment.

Several hormone therapies are FDA-approved to treat hot flashes and prevent bone loss. In addition to estrogen, there are also treatments using parathyroid hormone, such as teriparatide (Forteo), to promote bone health.

The benefits and risks vary depending on the severity of your hot flashes, bone loss, and overall health. These therapies are not right for everyone. Talk with a doctor before trying any hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy may not be the right choice for everyone. Some medical conditions may prevent you from safely being able to use hormone therapy, or you may choose to avoid it for personal reasons.

It’s possible that changes to your lifestyle may help you relieve many symptoms without the need for hormonal therapies.

Lifestyle changes may include:

  • weight loss
  • a new or more regular exercise routine
  • room temperature reductions
  • avoiding foods that worsen symptoms
  • dressing in light cotton clothing and wearing layers

Some people may also want to try other treatments, such as:

  • herbal therapies
  • self-hypnosis
  • acupuncture
  • certain low dose antidepressants
  • other medications to help decrease hot flashes

Several FDA-approved medications can be used to help prevent bone loss, including:

  • bisphosphonates, such as risedronate (Actonel, Atelvia) and zoledronic acid (Reclast)
  • selective estrogen receptor modulators like raloxifene (Evista)
  • calcitonin (Fortical, Miacalcin)
  • denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva)

You may find over-the-counter lubricants or other products to help with vaginal dryness.

Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life. It’s a time when your estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. Following menopause, your risk of developing certain conditions like osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease may increase.

To manage your symptoms, you can make healthy choices like eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise. This will also help you avoid unwanted weight gain.

Reach out to a doctor if you have any adverse symptoms that affect your ability to function or if you notice any unusual changes to your health. There are many treatment options to help with symptoms like hot flashes.