At its most basic, menopause just means that a woman stops being fertile. Technically, a woman is said to be "post-menopausal" if she has gone for 12 consecutive months without a period. Most of us hear about the negative side effects of menopause like hot flashes, night sweats and heart palpitations. Women dread going through the change because they've heard the horror stories. Of course, all of this is due to hormones, or more specifically, a reduction of the ovaries' hormone production.
You may not realize that menopause is actually a gradual transition -- it's not like turning off a switch. It also varies greatly depending on the woman, like everything else. Some women pass into menopause with relative ease. A woman beginning menopause is said to be in perimenopause, when the production of estrogen and progesterone starts to fluctuate and become irregular. Their periods also fluctuate in regularity and duration. Perimenopause generally starts for women in their late 30s or early 40s and can last for years. Hot flashes and other menopausal side effects can be extremely uncomfortable or even debilitating. Some women take medication or herbal supplements to help.