Menopause is the medical term for the end of a woman's menstrual periods. It is a natural part of aging, and occurs when the ovaries stop making hormones called estrogens. This causes estrogen levels to drop, and leads to the end of monthly menstrual periods.
This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 60, but it can happen earlier. Menopause can also occur when the ovaries are surgically removed or stop functioning for any other reason. Low estrogen levels are linked to some uncomfortable symptoms in many women.
The most common and easy to recognize menopause symptom is hot flashes - sudden intense waves of heat and sweating. Some women find that these hot flashes disrupt their sleep, and others report mood changes.
Other symptoms may include irregular periods, vaginal or urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence (leakage of urine or inability to control urine flow), and inflammation of the vagina. Because of the changes in the urinary tract and vagina, some women may have discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.
Many women also notice changes in their skin, digestive tract, and hair during menopause. In the long term, some women experience problems linked to the low levels of estrogen found after menopause. These may include osteoporosis and increased risk for heart disease.