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Patient Information

Glossary

The following glossary provides a few definitions of terminology related to menopause.

Abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB)

Bleeding that is abnormal in frequency, severity, or duration. Not the same as normal irregular periods during perimenopause or bleeding from menopause hormone therapy including estrogen and progestogen. Possible causes are hormone imbalance, pregnancy, fibroid tumors, uterine lining abnormalities, cancer, and other conditions of the vagina or cervix. See also Dysfunctional uterine bleeding.

Amenorrhea

The absence of a woman's monthly period not related to menopause.

Anxiety

A feeling of apprehension, fear, nervousness, or dread accompanied by restlessness or tension.

Bioidentical hormones

Hormones that are chemically identical to the hormones produced by a woman’s ovaries. Bioidentical hormone therapy can mean a medication that provides one or more of these hormones as the active ingredient. There are bioidentical hormone therapies that are government approved/regulated/quality controlled and others (eg, custom-compounded) that are not; and, although it has been suggested that the latter are safer, they all carry the same risk. See also Custom-compounded hormones.

Black cohosh

An herb, typically used in nonprescription supplement form. Among its uses is relieving mild hot flashes, although most studies show no better relief than a placebo (inactive substance).

Bone density or Bone mineral density (BMD)

The amount of bone tissue in a segment of bone. Measuring BMD is the best way to evaluate bone strength and predict fracture risk. Results are reported as T-scores and Z-scores. See also DXA scan.

Colonoscopy

A test to view inside the colon that also allows for the biopsy and removal of precancerous polyps.

Custom-compounded hormones

Hormone therapies that are mixed for individuals from a prescription into formulations such as topical creams, gels, lotions, tablets, and suppositories. These compounds are not regulated by the government. Efficacy and safety have not been proven in clinical trials. See also Bioidentical hormones.

D&C

Abbreviation for dilation and curettage. A surgical procedure that involves dilating (opening) the cervix and scraping, removing, and analyzing the uterine lining (endometrium) to determine the cause of abnormal uterine bleeding, among other conditions.

Depression

A disorder marked by a persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that affects eating, sleeping, and activity. Major depression is not the same as the mood swings or feeling blue reported by some perimenopausal women.

Dexa Scan

Abbreviation for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. The standard test for measurement of bone mineral density (BMD). DXA uses the principles of absorptiometry (the degree to which tissues absorb radiation) to determine spine, hip, or total body BMD. See also Bone density.

Dysmenorrhea

Pelvic pain and cramping associated with a menstrual period.

Dyspareunia

Vaginal pain during intercourse.

Endometrial ablation

A surgical procedure in which heat energy, in the form of lasers or electrical currents, is used to remove or thin down the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) for the treatment of abnormally heavy uterine bleeding.

Endometrial biopsy

A sample of endometrial tissue is removed through the opening of the cervix and examined microscopically for abnormal cells.

ERT or Estrogen replacement therapy

Term once used to describe estrogen therapy (ET) for menopause, now disallowed by government regulators. See also Estrogen therapy (ET).

Estradiol

Also called 17beta-estradiol. The most potent of the naturally occurring estrogens and the primary estrogen produced by women in their reproductive years. Available in oral, skin patch, and vaginal prescription drugs that are government approved for treating moderate to severe hot flashes and vaginal atrophy, and preventing postmenopausal osteoporosis. See also Estrogen, Bioidentical hormones.

Estriol

The least potent of the estrogens produced in the body. Not available in government approved drug formulations. See also Estrogen, Bioidentical hormones.

Estrogen

A variety of hormonal chemical compounds produced by the ovaries, influencing the growth and health of female reproductive organs. They are active in many cells throughout the body by interacting with estrogen receptors. The three main naturally occurring estrogens in women are estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estrogen levels fall after menopause. Several types of estrogen therapies are available for menopause indications. Also available in some contraceptives, but at much higher doses than those used for menopause treatment. See also Estrogen therapy (ET).

Estrogen patch

Or Estrogen skin patch or Estrogen transdermal delivery system. A form of estrogen therapy contained in a special patch that is adhered to the skin. The patch technology allows a gradual release of estrogen through the skin directly into the bloodstream where it circulates throughout the entire body (systemically), affecting many different tissues. See also Estrogen.

Estrogen plus progestogen therapy (EPT)

Also known as combination hormone therapy. Estrogen is the hormone in this duo that provides the most relief for menopause-related symptoms. Progestogen is added to protect the uterus from estrogen stimulation and the increased risk of endometrial cancer. See also Hyperplasia, Progestogen.

Estrogen therapy (ET)

General term describing a wide range of estrogen types that are available in various systemic and local formulations in oral, skin patch, and vaginal prescription drugs government approved for treating moderate to severe hot flashes and vaginal atrophy, and preventing postmenopausal osteoporosis. ET is prescribed without progestogen to women without a uterus. See also Estrogen, Progestogen.

Fibroids

Common, benign (noncancerous) tumors (myomas) made up of muscle cells and connective tissue that develop within the wall of the uterus. Fibroids are a common cause of abnormal uterine bleeding in midlife and beyond. See also Abnormal uterine bleeding.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

A hormone produced by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain). In women, FSH stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles (the small cysts that hold the eggs) and the supporting cells responsible for the growth and nurturing of the egg. FSH also stimulates production of estrogen by the ovaries. When estrogen production is low (after menopause), FSH levels will be high.

HDL cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein, referred to as "good" cholesterol. High HDL helps to lower the risk of heart disease.

Heart disease

Any disorder that affects the heart muscle or the blood vessels of the heart (eg, arrhythmia, coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, heart attack, heart failure, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, mitral regurgitation, and pulmonary stenosis).

Hormone

Specifically, a sex hormone (such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) produced by the ovaries (in women), testes (in men), or adrenal gland (in both women and men) that affects the growth or function of the reproductive organs or the development of secondary sex characteristics. Can also be used as medications when made in a laboratory to be identical to what the body makes, or somewhat different but with similar effects. Also includes non-sex hormones such as thyroid hormone.

Hormone therapy (HT)

Prescription drugs used most often when treating menopause symptoms. Encompasses both ET and EPT. HT replaces the more dated term hormone replacement therapy (HRT). See Estrogen therapy and Estrogen plus progestogen therapy.

Hot flash

A condition resulting in a red, flushed face and neck, perspiration, an increased pulse rate, and a rapid heart beat, often followed by a cold chill. Sometimes called a hot flush, this is the most common menopause-related discomfort thought to be the result of changes in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates the body’s temperature. If the hypothalamus mistakenly senses that a woman is too warm, it starts a chain of events to cool her down. Blood vesselsnear the surface of the skin begin to dilate (enlarge), increasing blood flow to the surface in an attempt to dissipate body heat. See also Vasomotor symptoms.

HRT or Hormone replacement therapy

Term once used to describe hormone therapy (HT) for menopause, now disallowed by government regulators. See also Hormone therapy (HT).

Hypertension

Abnormally high blood pressure.

Hysterectomy

Surgical removal of the uterus. Does not result in menopause, but ends menstrual periods and fertility. The term is often mistakenly used to describe removal of the uterus and both ovaries, which results in surgical menopause.

Hysteroscopy

A surgical procedure to examine the inside of the uterus by inserting a thin, lighted tube into the vagina and through the cervix (lower, narrow end of the uterus).

Induced menopause

Menopause that occurs earlier than expected when both ovaries are surgically removed or permanently damaged by cancer treatments (pelvic radiation or chemotherapy).

LDL cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein, considered to be "bad" cholesterol. Elevated LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease.

Menopause

The final menstrual period, which can be confirmed after going 12 consecutive months without a period. This time marks the permanent end of menstruation and fertility. It is a normal, natural event associated with reduced functioning of the ovaries, resulting in lower levels of ovarian hormones (primarily estrogen).

NAMS Menopause Practitioner

A licensed health care provider who has achieved a certification in the field of menopause from The North American Menopause Society by passing a competency examination.

Night sweats

Hot flashes that occur at night that can interfere with sleep, even if they are not strong enough to cause awakening. If heavy perspiration occurs, the condition is called night sweats. While it is a myth that menopause makes a woman irritable, inadequate sleep causes fatigue, which may lead to irritability. See also hot flashes.

Osteoporosis

Postmenopausal osteoporosis is a disease of older women in which the bone density of the skeleton has decreased to a point where bone has become fragile and at higher risk for fractures, often with little or no trauma. In most women, bone loss accelerates during the first few years after menopause, which is related to the decline in estrogen levels.

Perimenopause

A span of time typically lasting 6 years or more that begins with the onset of menstrual cycle changes and other menopause-related symptoms and extends through menopause (the last menstrual period) to 1 year after menopause. Perimenopause is experienced only with spontaneous (natural) menopause, not induced menopause. Also called the menopause transition. See also Induced menopause.

Postmenopause

The span of time after menopause (the final menstrual period).

Premature menopause

Menopause that occurs at or before the age of 40, which may be the result of genetics, autoimmune disorders, or medical procedures or treatments.

Progesterone

A female hormone that is released by the ovaries after ovulation to prepare the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to receive and sustain the fertilized egg and thus permit pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, progesterone (and estrogen) levels fall, resulting in menstruation. Available in prescription and nonprescription therapies (as a bioidentical hormone). See also Hormone therapy.

Progestogen

A naturally occurring or synthetic progestational hormone. There are various progestogen options: progesterone (identical to the hormone produced by the ovaries) and several different progestins (compounds synthesized to act like progesterone). See also Progesterone, Progestin, Hormone therapy.

Red clover

A member of the legume plant family rich in phytoestrogens. Available in nonprescription supplements used to reduce mild hot flashes. Studies, however, are inconclusive.

Testosterone

The male androgen hormone that is essential for sperm production and responsible for inducing and maintaining male secondary sex characteristics. In women, testosterone (partially produced by the ovaries) may regulate sexual desire and may also help maintain bone and muscle health.

Vaginal atrophy

A condition in which estrogen loss causes tissues of the vulva (the external parts of the female genital organs) and the lining of the vagina to become thin, dry, and less elastic. Vaginal secretions diminish, resulting in decreased lubrication.

Vaginal dryness

Inadequate lubrication of the vagina that can be caused by low estrogen levels, medication, or lack of sexual arousal.

Vaginal estrogen

Prescription estrogen therapy that is applied vaginally (as cream, ring, suppository, or tablet) and is government approved to treat moderate to severe vaginal dryness and atrophy. Most vaginal estrogen therapies provide local, not systemic, treatment. An example is Vagifem vaginal tablet. See also Local therapy.

Vaginal lubricant

Nonprescription, water-based products that are applied to the vagina to decrease friction and reduce discomfort during intercourse. Common brands include Astroglide, K-Y Personal Lubricant, Lubrin, and Moist Again.

Vaginitis

Inflamed vaginal tissues that result in vaginal discharge, burning, or irritation. Tissues may be prone to injury, tearing, and bleeding during sexual intercourse or a pelvic examination.

Weight-bearing exercise

Exercise during which bones and muscles work against the force of gravity or bear the body’s weight. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, dancing, and resistance training exercises. May slow bone loss in the early postmenopausal years and reduce fracture risk.

Used with permission: The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).