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What is Menopause?

Menopause is the medical term for the end of a woman’s menstrual period.  It is often called the “change of life” and marks the transition between a woman’s childbearing years and her non-childbearing years.  Menopause is a natural part of aging and occurs as a result of the gradual loss of estrogen, a hormone produced in the ovaries.  During a period known as “perimenopause,” estrogen production declines and women often develop irregular periods, hot flashes, mood swings and fatigue.  These symptoms often develop 3 to 5 years before a woman’s last period.  Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has been without a period for one year.

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Menopause in African American Women

Menopause affects all women regardless of race or socioeconomic background.  However, recent studies have shown that the experience of menopause is different among different racial groups.  African Americans have more estrogen related symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, urine leakage) than all the other ethnic groups.  Additionally, African Americans are less likely to have somatic symptoms (headaches, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, stiffness and soreness in joints) than all other ethnic groups. 

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What are the signs and symptoms of Menopause?

Menopause is a very individualized experience.  Research has proven, however, that low estrogen levels are responsible for a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, which will be outlined below.


Hot flashes: Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause, affecting more than 60 percent of menopausal women.  A hot flash is a sudden, often fleeting sensation ranging from warmth to intense heat that usually begins in the face or upper chest and spreads over the body.  These flashes usually last from 30 seconds to several minutes and are often accompanied by a rapid heart rate and feelings of anxiety. 


Irregular Menstrual Periods: Episodes of heavy bleeding and/or of infrequent cycles.  Cycles may be longer or shorter.  Irregular menstrual cycles may occur 2 – 8 years before the end of your periods.  Not all cases of irregular bleeding are caused by menopause.  Consult your physician.


Mood Changes: Many women report an increased level of anxiety and irritability as the “change” occurs.


Vaginal Dryness: results from lack of vaginal lubrication.  This is caused by a deficiency of estrogen and may contribute to a decrease in sexual satisfaction.

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Complications of Menopause

The most important complications of menopause include:

Osteoporosis: A deficiency of estrogen leads to a loss of bone mass.  The loss could result in curvatures, fractures, and pain.


Cardiovascular Disease: The risk of heart attacks and strokes increases in postmenopausal women.


Vaginal/Urinary Changes: Without estrogen, vaginal and bladder tissues begin to degenerate, causing dryness, painful intercourse, painful urination and incontinence.

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Treatment Options

HRT **: Hormone replacement therapy

Calcium supplementation for prevention of osteoporosis: Postmenopausal women
should take 1,000 to 1,500 mg of calcium daily.


Nutrition: Eating a reasonable diet low in fat, salt, and caffeine.


Exercise: Establish a moderate exercise program to benefit the heart and bones.


*Do not be afraid to speak to your doctor with your concerns about menopause.*




Menopause. National Institute of Health.

**Menopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy. National Cancer Institute.




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