There’s a lot of confusion about menopause. But more research is being done and much more is known about how to help women cope with menopausal symptoms.

What is menopause?

Menopause is defined as a woman’s final menstrual period, an event that can only be pinpointed in retrospect. The menopausal transition (perimenopause) is considered to be over when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months.

Menopause usually happens naturally as a part of aging, or it can be caused by surgical removal of a woman’s ovaries, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. The average age of menopause in the US is 51.

The most prominent symptom of menopause is hot flashes. The frequency of hot flashes usually increases during the first two years of perimenopause and then diminishes over time. Most women have hot flashes for six months to two years, but some women experience them for 10 or more years.

Other symptoms related to menopause include vaginal dryness, low sexual desire, weight gain, dry skin, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and remembering, weakened bones, depression, and anxiety.

Does menopause need to be treated?

Menopause is a natural event in most women’s lives so treatment of it is not necessary. Some women, though, find symptoms of menopause to be distressing and sometimes disabling and seek out treatment.

What kinds of treatment are available?

Hormone therapy is the most widely known treatment. But there are other types of treatments that many women find useful. Some are medications, but there are also lifestyle changes and over-the-counter remedies that have been shown to help various symptoms.

Is hormone therapy safe?

There is no medication that is entirely safe for everyone. But for the majority of women, hormone therapy is safe and effective, especially if it’s started close to the onset of menopause and is not continued indefinitely. Studies of the safety of bioidentical hormones compared to synthetic ones are currently being done.

How does a woman decide whether to treat menopausal symptoms?

The choice of whether and how to treat the symptoms of menopause is best made by the woman and her doctor. It should take into consideration the type and severity of symptoms and a woman’s medical history, family history, current medications, and risk factors for disease. Each woman’s situation is unique and the approach to treatment should also be unique. There is no one treatment that is suited for every woman.