Susan Wysocki, president and CEO of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, offers her comments:

1. One day: Clinically speaking, menopause is only one day – the day a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months. The time before menopause when a woman begins experiencing symptoms is called perimenopause, and the time after is post-menopause. The average age to experience menopause is 51; however, some women experience natural menopause as early as their 30s or as late as their 60s. Surgical menopause – hysterectomy with bilateral oophorectomy – occurs suddenly rather than gradually, due to the sudden drop in estrogen.

2. Pack on pounds: It’s typical during the menopausal transition for women to gain weight, even when they are eating the same amount of food. Many notice the weight gain more around the middle. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to portion sizes and to exercise regularly.

3. Online tool: The physical and emotional symptoms of menopause – hot flashes, anxiety, memory loss – are not always easy to understand. Women can evaluate their own experiences by using the Menopause Impact Tool, an online questionnaire at Women can print it out and discuss it with their physician.

4. Shrinkage: Women may experience the symptoms of vulvar and vaginal atrophy (vaginal narrowing or shrinkage), which, if untreated, will likely lead to vaginal dryness and painful sex in post-menopausal women.

5. Treatments: Estrogen alone, which is prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy, carries an increased risk of stroke and blood clots. A combined estrogen/progestin therapy, for women who experience natural menopause, carries the increased risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and blood clots. Despite the increased risks, which are low, the Mayo Clinic considers estrogen “the gold standard’ for treating menopausal symptoms. Those who should avoid hormone therapy include women with breast cancer, heart disease or a history of blood clots. Discuss all concerns with your doctor.

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