Menopause is the cessation of menstruation. As menopause nears, the menstrual cycle can become very sporadic. Some women will skip a period or not have one for several months at a time. A diagnosis of menopause is made when a women has not has a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.
The North American Menopause Society estimates nearly 40 million American women had reached menopause by 2000. In the U.S., the average age at menopause is 51, with a typical range of between 40 and 58.
As women reach menopause, production of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decline. Lower and erratic levels of hormones can lead to a variety of problems. One of the most common symptoms associated with menopause is hot flashes (the sudden sensation of extreme body warmth, sometimes referred to as hot flushes). The brain's thermostat mistakenly believes the body to be too warm and attempts to cool down. Blood vessels near the surface of the skin widen to allow more blood to reach the cooler surface, causing flushing in the face and neck. Some women also experience profuse sweating in an attempt to cool the body. A hot flash generally lasts from one to five minutes. As the symptoms reside, some women may feel chilled, cold, and clammy.
More than two-thirds of women experience hot flashes in the time leading up to menopause. The number and degree of hot flashes vary. Some women may only have an occasional hot flash, while others may have them several times a day. Hot flashes that occur at night (called night sweats) can interfere with sleep.
Acupuncture for Hot Flashes
Traditionally, doctors have prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce some of the symptoms of menopause. HRT has also been used to reduce the increased risk of osteoporosis, elevated cholesterol, and heart disease in women after menopause. But not all women can tolerate HRT. Some women have also become concerned about the safety of HRT after researchers recently halted a major trial of hormone replacement (due to an excessive number of cases of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke).
One alternative form of medicine is acupuncture. According to traditional Chinese medicine, two forces – ying and yang – are manifested in the form of a life energy known as Qi. This Qi flows through the body along specific pathways known as channels or meridians. Any disruption in the flow of Qi can cause symptoms or illness. Placement of fine needles along the appropriate pathways lead to a balance of Chi and a restoration of health.