Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(5):593-594

See related article on menopause.

What is menopause?

Menopause is when a woman stops having her period and her ovaries stop working. This means she can no longer become pregnant.

When does it happen?

The average age of menopause is 52 years, but it can begin any time from age 40 to 58. Menopause can happen over several years. You are menopausal if you haven't had a period for one year.

What can I expect?

Menopause affects every woman differently. Some women have few or no symptoms. Others may have irregular vaginal bleeding (e.g., spotting), hot flashes, and vaginal dryness.

How are the symptoms treated?

Your doctor may have you start taking hormones. This may include estrogen or estrogen combined with another hormone (progestogen). Hormone therapy can help your symptoms. However, it is not for everyone. Taking estrogen for a long time can cause problems like heart disease and cancer. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking hormones. If you cannot take estrogen, there are other medicines that may help. Your doctor can help you find the right medicine for your symptoms.

Are alternative therapies safe?

Some people think that plant estrogens and herbal supplements are “natural,” which makes them seem safer than hormone therapy. However, there have been very few scientific studies to test this. Talk to your doctor before you use them, because they may interfere with other medicines you are taking.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor during and after menopause. It is important to get regular tests to check for cancer of the cervix, colon, and breast.

What else should I do after menopause?

You should quit smoking, lower your blood pressure, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. This will help prevent heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in women. Taking enough calcium and vitamin D every day can help prevent osteoporosis, which causes weak bones that can break easily. Your doctor can test the strength of the bones in your spine and hip to see if you have it. Regular exercise with strength training and weight-bearing activities like walking and jogging can be especially good for you.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

National Institutes of Health

North American Menopause Society

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