Given its informal title "the change of life," it's no surprise that menopause, just like any other change, can cause anxiety. However, menopause - the time in a women's life when menstruation stops - doesn't have to be a time that women anticipate with dismay.

Menopause, which happens because the ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, can occur in a woman's 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51-and-a-half. Perimenopause is the term used to describe the transition years and is sometimes used interchangeably with menopause.

A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months. Because the body is producing fewer hormones, a woman may experience some symptoms as her body adjusts. Symptoms, which are most severe for one to two years after a woman's last period and may last up to five years, include: hot flashes and sweating; cessation of menstrual flow or irregular menstrual flow; heart racing; insomnia; decreased libido; headaches; skin flushing; vaginal dryness; and mood swings.

While each woman's experience with menopause is different, a healthy lifestyle may help relieve mood swings, depression and irritability. Over-the-counter products, phytoestrogen/phyoprogesterone supplements made from plants such as Phyto B L 4X, vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, hormone replacement therapy- can help women manage menopause symptoms if they are severe or bothersome.

Additionally, to lessen the likelihood and severity of hot flashes:

* Dress in lights layers and keep the house cooler, especially at night.

* Avoid spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine, cigarette smoking and alcohol.

* With the permission of your health care provider, take 400 to 800 international units of vitamin E daily.

* Manage stress - a hot flash trigger - with muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, and guided imagery.

* At night, avoid snacks with fat, sugar or caffeine.

As menopause can be associated with concerns about cardiovascular disease, bone loss, and other disorders, a healthy lifestyle is important. Women going through menopause should exercise for 30 minutes a day, keep a healthy diet, decrease alcohol consumption, take vitamin D and calcium supplements, and refrain from smoking.

During these years, it is important to have regular pelvic exams, pap smears, breast exams, and mammograms. If a problem is detected early, it is much easier to treat.

Lastly, if you are a woman nearing menopause, it's important to partner with your health care provider. You and your OB/GYN can work together to best manage your menopause and keep you happy and healthy.