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Menopause

Signs of change

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Updated August 03, 2004

A woman's body changes around the time of menopause, often before periods have actually stopped. One change is that periods become very irregular. Sometimes bleeding is very heavy or very light. Some women skip periods, or have more than one period a month. It's still possible for you to get pregnant during this time. If you don't want to get pregnant, keep using birth control even if your periods are irregular. Some women have irregular periods for several years before their periods stop. Others have regular periods right up to the time of their last period.

Hot Flashes
The hot flash is probably the best known sign of menopause. Some women start getting hot flashes several years before their periods stop. During a hot flash or "flush" you suddenly feel hot. It may begin with a sudden tingling in the fingers, toes, cheeks, or ears. Sometimes only certain parts of your body get red or flushed. The most common parts of the body to get fully flushed are the face and the neck. Each hot flash can last from 30 seconds to five minutes. Some women go from feeling hot to feeling cold. You may also get very warm and sweaty as you sleep. Sometimes these "night sweats" are uncomfortable enough to wake you up. Hot flashes happen because your body is making less estrogen, a female hormone.

About 85 out of every 100 women approaching or going through menopause have hot flashes. About one out of 10 women still have hot flashes 10 years after their last period. Overweight women are less likely to have hot flashes than thin women because their bodies continue to produce more estrogen from stored fat.

Other Problems
Another menopause discomfort is vaginal dryness. This is also due to decreased estrogen. Vaginal dryness can make sex painful for women and can also lead to vaginal and urinary infections and other problems.

Some women get osteoporosis after menopause. With osteoporosis, your bones get weak and can break more easily. It is probably related to the loss of estrogen. Heavier women are less likely to get osteoporosis than thin women. Smoking adds to your risk of osteoporosis.

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