Menopause, commonly known as the “change of life,” is a natural event in a woman's aging process. It signals the end of a woman's menstrual cycle and her ability to conceive. During a woman's reproductive years, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone fluctuate in an ongoing cycle to prepare a woman's body for menstruation, conception and pregnancy. When this repetitive release of hormones diminishes, menopause begins. Menopause occurs naturally, usually around the age of 50, or as a result of removal of the ovaries earlier in life. Some women experience few if any symptoms, while others experience various symptoms ranging from mild to fairly severe. Symptoms of menopause include the absence of monthly periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and mood swings. Because of the decreased estrogen levels, women who have experienced menopause are at increased risk for osteoporosis and heart disease. Patients and their physicians should discuss the risks and benefits of replacing the missing hormones with medicine.
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