A Nineteenth-century Term
Menopause has always been a part of natural life for women, and the history of medicine is littered with references to the period when women stop bearing children. The Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that women stop giving birth after the age of 50. But little was written about ways to ease women through the symptoms of menopause, which include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and vaginal dryness.
Occasional historical references to what we now call menopause and therapy for the condition can be found, such as the reference to hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms in the 1628 book, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. A 1675 account described a cooling diet for menopause. In 1701, physician Thomas Sydenham described the tendency of women ages 45-50 to develop "hysterick fits," and suggested blood letting as therapy.
But the term menopause was not used until 1816, when a medical syndrome called "la Ménépause" was described in a French journal by C. P. L. de Gardanne. By 1839, the first book entirely about menopause was written by Frenchman C. F. Menville. The book explained symptoms of menopause as a response to the death of the womb.
Menopause was described clearly in 1899 in an article entitled "Epochal Insanities," under the heading "Climacteric Insanity." The article described symptoms of menopause and invited physicians to treat it as a syndrome in need of attention. Women in the late nineteenth century were often advised to rest as a way of combating menopausal symptoms. By the early twentieth century, menopause was seen as "the death of the woman in the woman." Contemporary research has shown that menopause is not linked to mental illness or the death of the womb. The average woman of 51 can expect several more decades of life, making menopause more a transitional stage of life.
The many symptoms noted by early observers of menopause stem from profound hormonal changes which occur when women experience menopause. During menopause, hormonal activity changes as the body's needs are altered and production of natural estrogen and progesterone is reduced. The most obvious of these changes is the end of the monthly menstrual cycle, a process which occurs gradually. When this process ends, women can no longer bear children and ovulation no longer occurs.
Studies suggest that while a majority of women experience some menopausal symptoms, fewer than half have severe problems with the process.