Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life and refers to the last or final menstrual period she experiences. The KK Menopause Centre from KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) explains.
The word "menopause" literally means the "end of monthly cycles" from the Greek words "pausis" (cessation) and "men" from "mensis" meaning (month).
Menopause is the permanent cessation of menses and is defined as the end of the last menstrual period. However, this date can only be fixed retrospectively, once 12 months have gone by with no menstrual flow at all.
In common terms, however, the word "menopause" usually refers not to one day but to the whole of the menopause transition years. This span of time is also commonly called the change of life, the change, or the climacteric, and more recently as perimenopause.
Does every woman go through menopause?
Menopause is an unavoidable change that every woman will experience, assuming she reaches middle age and beyond. Most women become menopausal naturally between the ages of 45 and 55 years, with the average age of onset at around 50 years.
Menopause is officially declared when there has been amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) for one complete year, but there are many signs and symptoms that lead up to this point, many of which may extend well beyond it too. A final menstrual period before 40 years of age is regarded as premature menopause.
How long does perimenopause typically last?
The transitional period before menopause, also known as perimenopause, often accompanied by irregularities in the menstrual cycle along with the typical symptoms of early menopause, can begin up to 10 years prior to the last menstrual period.
Click here to learn more about perimenopause.
Once the periods have been absent for 12 months, the woman is considered to be menopausal. Postmenopause is all of the time in a woman's life that takes place after her last period.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
The duration and severity of menopause symptoms varies from individual to individual.
The most common physical symptoms that women experience are vasomotor symptoms manifesting as a spontaneous sensation of warmth, usually felt on the chest, neck and face, which may also be associated with perspiration, palpitations and anxiety.
These episodes are described as hot flushes, hot flashes and night sweats and can affect up to 70 per cent of women.
Abnormal uterine bleeding is also one of the common symptoms during menopause transition. Vaginal dryness and itching can occur due to atrophic vaginitis as a result of lack of the hormone oestrogen. The vaginal skin becomes more friable and more prone to inflammation and infections causing vaginal discharge. Intercourse can become more painful due to the atrophy as well as decrease in the libido.
Atrophy in the urogenital region also leads to urinary symptoms like frequency, urgency and incontinence (sudden, involuntary leakage of urine).
For some women, it’s the skeletal symptoms that predominate. Back pain, muscle and joint pains can occur. Osteopenia and gradually
osteoporosis can affect the bones increasing the risk of fractures.
Skin can sag and become drier and flakier due to loss of collagen and elasticity, which is in turn due to oestrogen deficiency. Some women experience symptoms like headaches, breast tenderness and palpitations more frequently.
Many women experience psychological symptoms as well.
Check out more articles on menopause:
Hot Flushes During Menopause: How to Manage
Menopause Diet: How What You Eat Can Ease Symptoms
Worsening Menopause Symptoms? What to Do
Menopause and Heart Disease: Is There a Link?