Experiencing hot flashes? Think you may be entering menopause?

We've asked the Food and Drug Administration to give us the basics on menopause.

We know: 1-Minute Lesson on Menopause

What is menopause?

During menopause a woman's body slowly produces less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopausal symptoms usually occur in women beginning in their late 40s or 50s. These symptoms may continue for several years before a woman finally reaches menopause. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

As a woman's body approaches menopause, she may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Changes in period--time between periods or flow may be different.
  • Hot flashes ("hot flushes")--getting warm in the face, neck and chest.
  • Night sweats and sleeping problems that lead to feeling tired, stressed or tense.
  • Vaginal changes--the vagina may become dry and thin, and sex may be painful.
  • Thinning of bones, which may lead to loss of height and bone breaks (osteoporosis).

Who needs treatment for symptoms of menopause?

For some women, many of these changes will go away over time without treatment. Some women will choose treatment for their symptoms and to prevent bone loss. If you choose treatment, estrogen alone or estrogen with progestin (for a woman who still has her uterus or womb) can be used.

What is hormone therapy for menopause?

Hormone therapy for menopause has also been called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). To help with menopausal symptoms, women are often given estrogen or estrogen with progestin (another hormone). Like all medicines, hormone therapy has risks and benefits. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about hormones.

If you decide to use hormones, use them at the lowest dose that helps. Also use them for the shortest time that you need them.

How do hormones help with menopause?

Hormones therapy can reduce hot flashes, treat vaginal dryness and slow bone loss.

Who should not take hormone therapy for menopause?

Women who think they are pregnant, have problems with vaginal bleeding, have had certain kinds of cancers, have had a stroke or heart attack in the past year, have had blood clots or have liver disease.

What are the risks of using hormones?

For some women, hormone therapy may increase their chances of getting blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, and gall bladder disease. For a woman with a uterus, estrogen increases her chance of getting endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining). Adding progestin lowers this risk.

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