Menopause: Frequently Asked Questions

“Menopause” is a word that brings uneasiness in many women—predictions of hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain provoke a certain dread of that inevitable time of life.

Menopause is the point in time when a woman's menstrual period stops and she can no longer get pregnant. A woman has reached menopause after a full year without periods. The years around the menopause when symptoms can be bothersome are called perimenopause.

Finding the right provider who will work with you to create a personalized care plan may not get rid of all menopause symptoms, but it can make this time a lot easier.

What are the symptoms?
The hormone changes that happen around menopause affect every woman differently. Some of these changes may lead to:
  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Sexual problems
  • Mood changes
  • Forgetfulness
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Joint aches and pain
Why do I feel like this?
Every woman experiences menopause differently. Some women may not experience any noticeable symptoms, while others may feel as if they are experiencing every listed symptom of menopause. Symptoms can last for a few months or for several years and are caused by changes in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Changes in hormones are a result of aging, or are medically induced through medication or an operation.
When can I expect to experience menopause?
Women are usually in their late 40s or early 50s when the menopause transition starts. However, an earlier menopause can be the result of surgery, cancer treatment, or family genetics.
I'm having a hysterectomy soon. Will this cause menopause?
A woman who has a hysterectomy but keeps her ovaries does not have menopause right away. Because your uterus is removed, you no longer have periods and cannot get pregnant. However, your ovaries might still make hormones, so you might not have other signs of menopause. Later on, you might have natural menopause a year or two earlier than usually expected. A woman who has both ovaries removed at the same time that the hysterectomy is done has menopause right away. Having both ovaries removed is called a bilateral oophorectomy. Women who have this operation no longer have periods and may have menopausal symptoms right away.
How can I prevent hot flashes?
Avoid triggers, like spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and stress. Keep a fan in your home or workplace and try taking slow, deep breaths when you feel a hot flash starting.
Does menopause cause bone loss?
Lower estrogen around the time of menopause leads to bone loss in women. Bone loss can cause bones to weaken, which can cause bones to break more easily. When bones weaken a lot, the condition is called osteoporosis. To keep your bones strong, women need weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, climbing stairs, or using weights. You can also protect bone health by eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, or if needed, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Not smoking also helps protect your bones.
Does menopause increase my risk of heart disease?
Yes. After menopause, women are more likely to have cardiovascular problems, like heart attacks and strokes. Changes in estrogen levels may be part of the cause, but so is getting older. That’s because as you get older, you may gain weight and develop other health problems that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Ask your doctor about important tests like those for cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Do women have sexual problems?
Yes, problems with sexual function occur in women of all ages. Doctors at the University of Iowa Health Care Menopause and Sexual Health Clinic work with their patients to design an individualized care plan targeted to each woman’s specific needs. The clinic sees women of all ages who have sexual health concerns. This includes problems with sexual interest, arousal, orgasm function, and pain.
Sometimes sex is uncomfortable due to vaginal dryness. What can I do?
Try using a water-based, over-the-counter vaginal lubricant like K-Y Jelly to help make sex more comfortable. You can also try using an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer like Replens to help keep needed moisture in your vagina. If the dryness is severe, the most effective treatment may be hormone replacement therapy. However, if dryness is the only reason for considering HRT, vaginal estrogen products, like creams are generally a better choice.
How are sexual problems evaluated?
A professional will ask you to share detailed information about your symptoms, general health, past operations, and any medications you might be taking. Everything you share is held in high confidence. The evaluation is performed with clothes on.
I'm having trouble sleeping. What can I do to fight fatigue?
You’re not alone–50 percent of women ages 40 to 59 report poor sleep quality. Try following these tips to improve your sleep hygiene:
  • Be physically active during the day.
  • Avoid large meals, smoking, and working right before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Avoid napping.
  • Establish a bedtime routine.
  • Limit the bedroom to sleep and intimacy.
  • Wear lightweight clothing.
Can hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help treat my symptoms?

HRT involves taking the hormones estrogen and progesterone. (Women who don’t have a uterus anymore take just estrogen). HRT can be very good at relieving moderate to severe menopausal symptoms and preventing bone loss. However, HRT isn’t for everybody. For some women, HRT increases the risk for blood clots, heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, and gallbladder disease.

You should not take HRT if you:

  • Think you are pregnant
  • Have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding
  • Have had breast cancer or uterine cancer
  • Have had a stroke or heart attack
  • Have had blood clots
  • Have liver disease or heart disease
What can I do to improve mood swings?
Getting enough sleep and staying physically active may help prevent mood swings. You can also try learning new ways to deal with stress, like meditating or journaling. If you need somebody to talk to, consider joining a support group or seeing a therapist.
I’m losing my train of thought more often. Should I be concerned?
Many women report cognitive changes during menopause. Getting enough sleep and being active may help. However, if forgetfulness is affecting your daily life, see your doctor.
Last reviewed: 
October 2016
Alternative Names: 
Change of life

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