Is This Normal?

Is This Normal?

Understanding Menopause

A Greek philosopher once said, “Change is the only constant in life.” For women, one of the most significant changes in their lives occurs at middle age.

Menopause, often called “the change of life,” marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. It is a natural process where women no longer have menstrual periods and can no longer get pregnant. Their ovaries stop releasing eggs and produce very low levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Women reach menopause a full year after their last period. This means they have not had any bleeding or spotting for 12 months in a row. The average age for menopause is 51, though it can occur a decade or more earlier.

Menopause symptoms can affect each woman differently. Some have few and less severe symptoms, while others have more frequent and stressful ones.

Research shows that menopause is a highly heritable condition in terms of age onset and the type of symptoms experienced. Additionally, women who smoke or are underweight go through menopause earlier than others.


Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause, affecting 75 percent of women, according to the National Menopause Foundation. These sudden periodic increases in body temperature can also increase heart rate and cause dizziness. Hot flashes that happen at night are called night sweats.

Other symptoms can include vaginal dryness, insomnia, emotional changes, increased facial hair, and thinning hair on the scalp.


Menopause does not happen all at once. Perimenopause, or the “menopause transition,” is the time leading up to a woman’s last period. It can begin two to seven years before menopause.

Many women may experience menopause symptoms during perimenopause. They still have menstrual cycles and may have irregular periods. Pregnancy is still possible during this transition phase.


This is the time after a woman has not had a period for an entire year (or for the rest of her life after menopause). During this stage, menopausal symptoms may improve. However, some women continue to experience menopausal symptoms for a decade or longer after the menopause transition. As a result of lower estrogen levels, postmenopausal women are at an increased risk for several health conditions, such as osteoporosis and heart disease.

Several options are available to manage menopause symptoms (see below). The Horizon Health Center for Women’s Health & Wellness offers comprehensive services for all stages and aspects of a woman’s life, including menopause management.