The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

What is Menopause

Menopause refers to the cessation of menstruation in women. It occurs when the ovaries stop functioning. Natural menopause usually occurs between age 45 and 55.

Menopause also occurs in women who have had their ovaries surgically removed and can occur as a result of damage to the pituitary gland, which helps regulate the function of the ovaries.

Menopause symptoms

Some women pass into menopause with no noticeable symptoms, while other women experience severe and debilitating symptoms including:

  • Nervousness;
  • Hot flashes (flushes) and chills;
  • Fatigue;
  • Apathy;
  • Depresion;
  • Insomnia;
  • Dizziness.

There is no evidence that sexual desire and activity necessarily decrease in post-menopausal women.

The ovaries are the female body's producer of estrogen; when the ovaries stop functioning in menopause, estrogen levels plummet. This can have long-range effects including osteoporosis and atherosclerosis.

In order to treat the symptoms of menopause, many women receive Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which usually involves taking estrogen combined with progestin. (Taking estrogen alone causes an unacceptably high risk of uterine cancer.)

HRT may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, but may increase the risk of breast cancer and liver disease. For these reasons, decisions about whether or not to begin or continue HRT must be made on an individual basis by a woman and her doctor.

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by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain