Menopause is a normal phase of a woman's life, one that more than 4,000 women enter each day. It is defined as the period in time when the ovaries cease functioning and menstrual periods stop. The production of hormones in a woman's body begins to decline, however, several years before the onset of menopause. You may also hear the term perimenopause or climacteric, which means the time from when menstrual periods start to diminish up to a year after the final menstrual period. In the United States the average age of menopause is 51.

In the past, menopause was often treated as an illness, a subject only talked about behind exam room doors. Today, women want to understand the physical changes that are happening to their bodies. They are seeking immediate relief for their menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness. They are also considering the impact of menopause on their risk of chronic disease and their long-term health.

There is abundant information available today for women facing questions about menopause, particularly questions about hormone replacement therapy. Unfortunately, much of this information, including information from medical research, can be confusing and difficult to interpret. UCSF Women's Health can provide individual consultation about menopausal issues including hormone replacement therapy. The Women's Health Resource Center can also provide written information for women who wish to read more on their own.

Common symptoms of menopause include:

Reduced fertility
Changes in menstrual periods
Hot flashes
Vaginal dryness
Emotional changes
Libido changes
Most of these symptoms will stop after menopause is completed.

However, menopause also increases the risk of contracting heart disease or osteoporosis, which continue after menopause is completed. Although not associated with menopause, cancer is associated with advancing age in women

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