Menopause By Many Other Names

by Cindy Moy Carr

More attention is being given to women’s health, including menopause, which is long overdue. The word ‘menopause,’ however, is often used synonymously with midlife or middle-age, which it most certainly is not, or as an umbrella term encompassing all stages of hormonal changes.

We decided a glossary of menopause-related terms would be useful.

Menopause is a natural event that signals the end of a person’s fertility, when they are no longer able to get pregnant. It is defined as the moment when someone has gone 12 consecutive months without a period (not due to surgery or any other obvious cause).

Menopause is caused by a change in the body’s sex hormones, primarily estrogen, progesterone and, to a smaller degree, testosterone, as a person ages.

The natural levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to fall, causing the ovaries to reduce their monthly egg production until it stops completely.

This can take several years, with hormone levels rising and falling throughout.

Medical Menopause

When a woman stops producing eggs and stops having menstrual cycles due to certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery, she goes through medical menopause.

This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. The transition time is much shorter than non-medical menopause, and may even be immediate.

Surgical Menopause

Surgical menopause occurs when a woman goes through menopause due to surgery, rather than the natural aging process. The surgery to remove the ovaries is an oophorectomy.

Temporary or Induced Menopause

A little-known form of menopause is temporary or induced menopause, when people have menopause brought on through hormone treatments.

This is used as a treatment for endometriosis and some other gynecological conditions, as well as for people under perimenopause age facing chemotherapy to help preserve their fertility.

Perimenopause

Meaning “around menopause”, perimenopause is the medical term for the transitional years leading up to menopause. See The Perimenopause Puzzle

The timespan for perimenopause varies, from 10 years to a few months, but most people are perimenopausal for around 4-5 years. See Perimenopause Puberty in Reverse

Early Menopause People who go through menopause (their periods have completely stopped) before the age of 45 are considered to have had an early menopause.

This can happen naturally or as the result of some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Premature Menopause

Once known as a premature menopause, menopause that happens naturally before the age of 40 is now termed primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) or premature ovarian failure, although this is now becoming lesser used.

POI occurs when the ovaries prematurely stop producing the normal levels of certain hormones, especially estrogen, causing the ovaries to stop their regular monthly egg production.

Primary ovarian insufficiency can be caused by the likes of an autoimmune disease or an infection, but at times the cause is unknown. It affects around 1 percent of people and can happen at any age, including in the teenage years.

Postmenopause

After going 12 months without a period, people are classed as postmenopausal, but may still suffer symptoms for several years afterwards.

In addition, the drop in estrogen can result in additional healthcare issues, such as an increased risk in osteoporosis and heart problems.

Andropause (aka Male Menopause)

While male bodies lose a small amount of testosterone as they age, this does not result in a stop in fertility or the so-called “male menopause” (also known as the andropause).

Nevertheless, male bodies in their 40s and 50s can experience some similar symptoms, including: mood swings; irritability; loss of muscle mass; depression; tiredness, and memory and concentration problems.

As this glossary shows, menopause is complex. The way we experience it is complex as well. It’s time to take closer look at the part it plays in our lives.

Cindy Moy Carr is the founder of Vorsdatter Limited which created mySysters, the first app for women in perimenopause, after she looked for an app to help her while dealing with severe symptoms and none were available. Cindy is an attorney, journalist, editor and author.