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Many women feel that as they approach menopause they will become old and unattractive but this is simply not true. It is a normal part of life. Menopause that occurs before age forty is referred to as premature but in some cases menopause begins as early as thirty-five. Once ovulation (the releasing of eggs) stops, menstruation ceases.

Menopause can be gradual with menstrual periods becoming irregular before complete cessation or it can occur all at once. The symptoms may be different in each woman but even gradual hormonal changes can affect the physical and emotional states dramatically. There are women who have no symptoms at all while others experience severe symptoms. Hormone levels vary as estrogen production slows causing emotional upsets such as anxiety, depression and extreme mood swings. Although these conditions can be treated with medication, most women adapt well on their own.

Among the symptoms that may be experienced are achy joints, hot flashes, changes in sexual desire, difficulty concentrating, headaches, frequent urination, mood swings and insomnia. What some women do not realize is that pregnancy can still occur even at the onset of menopause as long as there is menstruation even if it is sporadic. Precaution should still be taken during this time. Hot flashes which are sudden rises in hormonal levels are probably the most common symptom of menopause and can occur for several years afterward. Physicians may prescribe hormone replacements and vitamin supplements. Regular exercise can help reduce episodes of hot flashes.

Decreased estrogen can cause osteoporosis which is a loss of bone mass. Bones become more brittle and injuries are more likely to occur. Chances of osteoporosis increase where there is a family history or the woman is a smoker. Symptoms usually do not occur in osteoporosis until it is already advanced. Menopause may also bring a change in sexual desire which could be an increase or decrease depending upon the individual.

Vaginal dryness can occur and the use of over the counter lubricants may become necessary. Women should consult their physician to see if hormone therapy would be right for them. Hormone therapy can prevent osteoporosis, improve moods and eliminate hot flashes but there are risks including increased risk of breast cancer and risk of heart disease.

The decision to take hormone therapy should be weighed carefully based on the severity of symptoms, chance of osteoporosis and other risk factors involved. Ask the physician to explain all options thoroughly. Many symptoms can be alleviated with proper rest, diet and exercise. Most women find that menopause is not the devastating period of life that they expected it to be but rather a new beginning. For many women a new life experience is just starting now that the children are grown and they have time to pursue different directions in their lives. They may be embarking on a new career for the first time in years, going back to school to continue an education that was put on hold or planning to retire and just relax. Menopause is nothing to fear. It does not represent old or unproductive. It only means change and change is the only constant there really is.

Darlene Zagata may be contacted at [email protected]. Darlene Zagata is a freelance writer and mother of four children. Her work has appeared in several electronic and print publications. Darlene is the Managing Editor of RITRO.com and she co-authors a column with her son at RaisingASon.com. She is also a Review Editor for MyShelf.com and an Editorial Reviewer for The Writer’s Room Magazine. Her book of poetry “Aftertaste” is available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Her first book of fiction, “The Choosing” is currently in the process of publication.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.