Office of Women's Health

Facts About Menopause

What is menopause?

Menopause is part of a gradual and natural process in which the ovaries produce less and less of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and menstrual periods gradually disappear. For most women this process begins silently somewhere around 40 years of age when periods may become less regular. This time of change is called perimenopause or premenopause. The average age women complete menopause is around 51. Some women experience menopause at younger ages due to premature ovarian failure, cancer therapy or surgical removal of both ovaries.

What are the signs of menopause?

Each woman experiences menopause differently. Changing hormone levels can cause a variety of symptoms that may last from a few months to a few years or longer. Some women have slight discomfort or worse. Others have little or no trouble. If any of these changes bother you, check with your doctor. The most common symptoms include:

Will menopause affect my health?

There are two common problems that can start to happen at menopause: osteoporosis and heart disease.

What about hormone replacement?

In menopause, your doctor might suggest taking estrogen and progesterone, know as hormone replacement therapy or HRT. HRT involves taking estrogen plus progestin. Estrogen alone, or ERT, is for women who have had their uterus removed. Estrogen plus progestin is for women with a uterus. Progestin, when used with estrogen, helps reduce the risk of uterine cancer. These hormones can be taken in a variety of forms such as pills, skin patches, creams or vaginal inserts, depending on a woman’s needs.

HRT or ERT may relieve menopause-related symptoms, such as hot flashes, and reduce bone loss; however, HRT has risks. It should not be used for long-term prevention of heart disease. Taking HRT increases, rather than reduces, the risk for heart disease and stroke. It also increases the risk of breast cancer and blood clots, but it appears to decrease the risk of colon cancer. Scientists are still studying the effects of HRT. Talk to your doctor about taking estrogen/progestin or about other treatments that may ease menopausal symptoms.

What about phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like substances found in cereals, vegetables, legumes (beans) and some herbs. They may work in the body like a weak form of estrogen. Some may lower cholesterol levels. Soy, wild yams and herbs such as black cohosh and dong quai, contain phytoestrogens and may relieve some symptoms of menopause. The government does not regulate phytoestrogens. Scientists are studying some of these plant estrogens to find out if they really work and are safe. Be sure to tell your doctor if you decide to eat more foods with phytoestrogens. Any food or over-the-counter product used for its drug-like effects could interact with other prescribed drugs or cause an overdose.

More information about menopause can be obtained by contacting:

The National Institute on Aging Information Center



The National Women’s Health Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services