Menopause is generally defined as the cessation of reproductive activity in human females prior to death. The word "menopause" literally means "end of cycles" and marks the point in a woman's life where her reproductive or menstrual cycle stops. For most women, this is first manifested when in the mid-40s. At this time, the female ovaries begin producing reduced amounts of the sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen generally controls ovulation and progesterone controls menstruation; the two key aspects of the female menstrual cycle.
Pre-menopause is generally defined as the period of time leading up to a woman's final menstrual cycle in which her hormone levels are gradually declining. Post-menopause is the period of time following the women's final cycle in which is no longer ovulating. However, even postmenopausal women experience differing levels of hormones and fluctuations of hormone levels such that hormone withdrawal symptoms may also be present during this time.
Menopause in its most common manifestation is called "natural" menopause and is a result of the normal aging process in females. Menopause can however also be surgically induced through removal of both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, most commonly as part of a hysterectomy operation. As one might expect, the surgical removal of the ovaries causes a dramatic reduction in hormone production and can exacerbate the effects. Menopause is associated with a number of physiological effects in conjunction with its onset, occasioned by the rapidly changing levels of natural hormones in the body. Not all women experience these effects and they are present in varying levels from one individual to another. These effects include lack of energy, mood swings, heart palpitations and "hot flashes". Psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, memory loss and irritability are also present.
The symptoms of menopause can be treated pharmacologically through hormone replacement therapy or HRT. In the course of this type of treatment, hormones such as one or more estrogens and progesterone are administered to reduce the effect of menopause by balancing or maintaining a consistent level of hormones to limit the effects. In addition to this form of therapy, antidepressants, including Prozac, have been utilized to control the psychological effects of menopause. In addition, lifestyle measures can be implemented control or minimize the symptoms as well. These can include drinking cold liquids, using fans and staying in cold rooms during "hot flash" periods as well as avoiding triggers for such symptoms such as hot drinks and hot spicy foods.
Cultural influences have a wide impact on the perception of menopause and its meaning. In the