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Menopause is the end of menstrual cycle of a woman, and thereby her fertility. It usually occurs due to changes in the levels of female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. The symptoms may start appearing several years earlier. This phase is known as perimenopause, which lasts for a year after the last period. After a full year without a period, a woman is said to have been through the menopause phase. The postmenopause follows menopause and lasts for the rest of her life.

Phases/Stages

Perimenopause
During this phase, the menstrual cycles are irregular; however, they do not stop occuring completely. Therefore, a woman can still get pregnant in this phase. The average age of a woman to reach this phase is 47 years. Many women experience hot flashes during this phase.

Menopause
During this phase, a woman has had her final menstrual period. Twelve consecutive months without periods establishes a woman's menopausal stage. Some of the commonly observed symptoms in this phase include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleeping problems, etc.

Postmenopause
This phase begins after a woman does not have her menstrual periods for at least 1 year, and it continues till the rest of her life. Any vaginal spotting post menopause is considered abnormal and should be treated immediately.

Symptoms
Following are some of the symptoms:
  • Irregular periods
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Dryness in vagina
  • Sweating
  • Disturbed sleep
Start of Menopause
The average age of a woman to have menopause is 51. However, some women may have their last period in their early forties while some may have in their late fifties. Women who have their last periods before the age of 40 are said to experience early or premature menopause. Certain factors or conditions may affect the onset of this condition. They are:
  • Smoking: It may cause premature end of the menstrual cycle.
  • Hysterectomy: This surgery is performed to remove the uterus. As a result the menstrual periods will stop forever.
  • Oophorectomy: This surgery is performed to remove both the ovaries, mostly along with the uterus, thereby leading to the end of periods.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment for cancer may damage the ovaries and prevent the occurrence of periods permanently.
  • Chromosomal Abnormalities: The ovaries may not develop normally in women with defects in their chromosomes, such as Turner's syndrome. This may lead to early menopausal stage.
  • Family History: For example, women, whose mothers have had early termination of their periods are more likely to experience early menopause.
  • Certain Medical Conditions: Thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis may also lead to early termination of menstruation.
Hot flashes, which is the most common symptom, can be controlled by wearing loose-fitting clothes and avoiding triggers like caffeine and spicy foods. A healthy diet, lifestyle changes such as, quitting smoking or drinking, and regular exercising will help manage the other symptoms.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.