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In short ‘menopause’ is known as the last menstrual period. Before the last period woman go through peri menopause or the climacteric and after the last period they go through post-menopause. The term ‘menopause’ has also been used to refer to the time before and after the last period.

Menopause is a normal natural occurrence in a woman’s life, characterised by changes in hormones, and is similar to menarche or the first period. Menopause usually occurs in the late 40's or early 50's or around mid life. Women who smoke can experience menopause at least two years earlier than woman who don't smoke.

Given the life expectancy for the average female to be 82, menopause signifies the start of a new stage in a woman’s life which may span 30 years. This new stage is not the beginning of old age but perhaps the beginning of new opportunities, different expectations, and experiences.

Premature Menopause and Medical/surgical Menopause

Menopause occurring before a woman turns 40 it often called early or premature menopause. Around 1% of woman in Australia begin menopause prematurely. Premature menopause may be distressing especially if it interferes with a woman’s plans to have children. Since premature menopause is uncommon, the symptoms in the beginning may not be seen or be acknowledged as being menopausal.

Medical treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgical removal of the ovaries can induce menopause. This type of menopause is generally known as artificial, medical or surgical menopause and occurs immediately with symptoms that are fairly severe.

What occurs in the body with menopause?

What woman experience during menopause will be different for each woman across all cultures. The one common factor all women will experience is the basic hormonal changes. The ovaries in woman produce three different hormones - progesterone, oestrogen, and testosterone. In menstruation, pregnancy and ovulation these 3 hormones play a vital role. These hormones diminish during the peri- menopause stage. It takes a number of years for this process to take place unless the ovaries are removed or are affected by chemotherapy or radiation. The fat cells and adrenal glands continue to make testosterone and small amounts of a form of oestrogen.

The degree to which a woman’s body responds to these hormonal changes varies from woman to woman

  • 50% of women experience mild to moderate menopausal symptoms
  • 25% of women have no issues and manage menopause okay
  • 25% of women experience severe problems.

Not all symptoms experienced by women at this point in their life is related to menopause Often they are part of the normal aging process

Common menopausal symptoms include:

  • Hot flushes and night sweats – Hot flushes are characterised by feelings of heat similar to a fever that spread to the neck, face, chest, and the body.
  • These hot flushes can be accompanied by nausea, sweating, flushed skin and heart palpitations.
  • Night sweats are hot flushes that generally occur during sleep at night.
  • Hot flushes occur from 30 seconds to five minutes or sometimes can last longer.
  • Some women have many hot flushes a day while others experience them infrequently.
  • Alcohol, hot foods, overdressing, stress and anxiety can aggravate hot flushes.
  • Night sweats and hot flushes are believed to be caused by hormonal changes during menopause.


Menstrual irregularities - During peri-menopause many women will experience flow changes in their menstrual cycle. Irregular periods that stop and start with no apparent pattern are experienced by many women. The period may be light, heavy or last longer than usual. Irregular bleeding may be caused by other gynecological issues so its best to consult a doctor to make sure it is menopause related and nothing more serious.

Sleep issues – Usually caused by night sweats and many woman have to adjust their bedclothes to suit their body temperature,  Often women have to get up to change clothing and bedding due to the night sweats. These disturbances caused by night sweats often leave a woman experiencing fatigue the next day.

Genital changes - It looks like oestrogen plays an important role in maintaining healthy vaginal tissue. The decrease in oestrogen levels at menopause could cause vaginal dryness and thinning of the vaginal tissue. Lots of women report sex to be painful because of dryness and reduced elasticity of the walls of the vagina. Changes in the pH level of the vagina can lead to changes in the bacteria balance which may result in bacterial infections. There may also be a decrease in fatty tissue in the vulva as well.

Urinary problems - Many women can become susceptible to urinary tract infections bought on by changes in the vagina, urethra and bladder at menopause.

Women may experience frequent, painful urination, unpleasant odour to the urine and have a feeling like they need to urinate even when the ladder is empty.

Some women can experience incontinence due to a drop in oestrogen levels which aggravate existing pelvic floor muscle weakness.

Weight Gain – Menopause seems to be connected with a redistribution of weight from the hip and thigh area to the stomach area. Inherent hormonal changes have increased the risk of health conditions like cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in post menopausal women.

Joint/muscle aches and pain - During peri-menopausal women may have stiffness in the morning or joint pain in the hips, knees, lower back, shoulder and hands. Joint pain has been linked to a drop in oestrogen but the reasons for why this increases joint and muscle aches and pain are unclear.

Skin/hair changes -As we age the skin becomes less elastic and begins to thin. These changes are accentuated during menopause as oestrogen plays a major role in maintaining the skin. Women may observe a change in the skin’s tone and texture as well as an increase in lines and wrinkles. The skin may feel oilier or dryer or may have a combination of both of these. Reports say that many women have a crawling sensation under the skin similar to ants running over the skin. Women could also find thinning of the hair on their head and an increase in facial hair. This is caused by an unbalance in oestrogen and testosterone. Other women may notice thinning of the pubic hair.

Others - There are a number of other symptoms normally attributed to menopause including anxiety, depression, irritability, forgetfulness and other mood changes. It is still a controversy whether depression is directly related with menopause. All the same, it does seem that numerous women find the transition to menopause increases their vulnerability to developing depression. Forgetfulness, mood changes, mild anxiety and irritability may be the result of hot flushes, night sweats and sleep problems during menopause.