Stages of Life > Menopause > Overview

The Facts About Menopause

The end of a woman's periods signals the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

A menopausal woman leans into her hands as her elbows prop up on a table.

About 1.3 million women in the United States enter menopause each year, amounting to a total of more than 55 million women currently in a perimenopausal or menopausal stage of their life. Given those numbers, about 20 percent of the American workforce consists of women adjusting to a new stage of life.

Menopause is a natural state brought on by hormonal changes that occur in a woman's midlife. At this point, the ovaries stop producing hormones such as progesterone and estrogen, and monthly periods cease. Usually, this process begins around the age of 50 but can happen as early as 45 or even much later, depending on each individual.

A woman taking hormonal suppressants or undergoing an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) will experience chemical or surgical menopause, respectively, which bring about the same symptoms.

Premature and early menopause

If the body enters menopause before age 45, it's considered early menopause, and before the age of 40 is classified as premature.

This condition is not a common occurrence, and in up to 60 percent of cases, doctors are not able to discern a reason why it happens. However, you may be more at risk of premature or early menopause if you have an autoimmune disease, infection or certain genetic abnormalities like Turner syndrome; you've undergone cancer treatment; or you've been exposed to cigarette smoke (directly or indirectly) or certain endocrine disruptors.

Given those numbers, about 20 percent of the American workforce consists of women adjusting to a new stage of life.

Women who enter menopause early have the exact same symptoms as their older peers, experiencing changes in mood and sex drive along with physical symptoms like body temperature changes and osteoporosis. 

The moody blues

Mood changes may cause difficulty in relationships, changes in memory may cause difficulty performing job duties and fulfilling personal responsibilities, and weight gain can cause decreased confidence, a dwindling sense of femininity and diminished sexual wellness.

Changes in memory, known as "brain fog," can cause difficulty remembering important events or details. A frustrating symptom, brain fog may lead to impaired confidence and self-esteem, loneliness, isolation and a lack of connection with other people, along with difficulty managing emotions.

Mood swings and difficulty focusing can sometimes be alleviated by resting, participating in cardiovascular activity several days a week and engaging in tasks that stimulate the brain, such as teaching yourself a new skill.

Women who experience menopausal mood swings, along with other mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety disorders, should consult their doctor or a qualified mental health professional.

The heat is on

Hot flashes are another common sign of menopause. These episodes can happen at any time and are thought to result from hormonal changes in the brain's thermoregulatory center, which controls heat production and loss. Suddenly, your body and face feel very hot, and the heat washes over you, leading to sudden perspiration and discomfort. At night, your body continues to experience hot flashes, which can be followed by profuse sweating, hence the term "night sweats."

Most women experience hot flashes for six months to two years, though some reports suggest they last considerably longer—sometimes as long as 10 years. Some women continue to have hot flashes for the rest of their life, but the condition is usually manageable.

To help manage most issues associated with hot flashes, keep a desktop fan handy at the office, use cold compresses, regulate room temperature with ceiling fans or air conditioners and purchase breathable cotton sheets and pillowcases. If symptoms resist your management efforts, talk to your doctor about prescribed treatments, hormonal and nonhormonal treatments, and herbal supplements.

More sleep, healthier diet

Another widespread symptom of menopause is difficulty getting to sleep at night, and once asleep, staying that way until morning. Medical professionals recommend women who experience persistent insomnia limit their caffeine intake, not eat after 7 p.m. to avoid digestion issues, take over-the-counter or prescription medication for insomnia, and establish a relaxing bedtime routine. A treatment regimen may include natural supplements, such as melatonin; using relaxing scented lotions and oils, such as lavender and chamomile; drinking a cup of caffeine-free hot herbal tea; or reading a book or writing in a journal.

Most women experience some changes in sexual function as they age, but menopause and aging certainly do not signal the end of a woman's sex life.

Menopause may cause women to gain weight. If you or your doctor think your weight is impacting your health, shift toward eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, taking vitamins, exercising regularly, staying hydrated and practicing good stress management by using tools such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga.

Sexual wellness

Menopausal symptoms often include vaginal dryness, which leads to discomfort and possible pain during sexual intercourse. While sexual desire and response often slow down with age—a decrease in testosterone contributes to a lagging desire—if a woman undergoing menopause has a partner who is experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED) at the same time, the bedroom situation may become tense. Men and women can both be prescribed testosterone to combat decreased sexual desire.

Women can manage vaginal dryness by staying hydrated, using a lubricant during sex, wearing breathable cotton underwear and applying a low dose of prescription estrogen cream to their vagina. Women who experience vaginal dryness may benefit from regular sexual activity, to help stimulate blood flow to the area, as well as physical therapy or exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and relieve discomfort. A physician could recommend a variety of creams, pills and estrogen rings to help with vaginal dryness.

Most women experience some changes in sexual function as they age, but menopause and aging certainly do not signal the end of a woman's sex life.


A woman's chances of getting osteoporosis increase after menopause because the ovaries are no longer producing estrogen, resulting in a loss of bone mass and density. You can request radiology scans to check the status of your bones, but there are few external signs that indicate osteoporosis. Back pain, poor posture and "shrinking" or losing height are possible signs, but most people don't realize they have the condition until they break a bone.

To minimize the risk and damage done by osteoporosis, make sure to get enough calcium in your diet with foods like yogurt, soybeans, cheese, salmon, collard greens and sardines. Weight-bearing exercises like walking and strength training are also helpful for osteoporosis patients.

The changes brought about by menopause may seem endless, but doctors are well-equipped and ready to treat your symptoms to keep your life vibrant and thriving after your periods stop.

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A menopausal woman leans into her hands as her elbows prop up on a table.