The word menopause comes from a blend of Latin and Greek words - 'mensis' meaning month, and 'pauses' meaning to cease. It's the point where a woman stops ovulating and no longer menstruates. This change signifies the end of fertility.

Menopause isn't the end of everything. Menopause is a natural progression into the next stage of your life. Several generations ago, few women lived beyond menopause. Today, you might live as much as one third to one half of your life after menopause.

Fortunately, much more is now known and we can do so much more to relieve its symptoms. As part of our Health and Nutrition series, this brochure will help you understand more about menopause, focusing on the natural ways you can make the transition as comfortable as possible.

Is it menopause?

Every woman experiences menopause differently. Even the age you start menopause will be unique to you. For most women, menopause begins between 50 and 51.

Your symptoms are also likely to be very individual. Here are some of the most common:

- Irregular menstruation. Your cycle could stop suddenly, or gradually get lighter or heavier and then stop. Having an unpredictable period is often one of the first clues that menopause is approaching.

- Vaginal changes. As your oestrogen level declines, the tissues lining your vagina and urethra (the opening to your bladder) become drier, thinner and less elastic. With less lubrication you might feel burning or itching.

- Hot flushes. A hot flush is a warm feeling moving up from your chest to your shoulders, neck and head. You might sweat and then feel chilled, weak and slightly faint. Hot flushes can last from 30 seconds up to 30 minutes, but most go away in 2 to 3 minutes. They can happen any time, day or night.

- Night sweats and trouble sleeping. Night sweats are often a result of hot flushes. You might wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, and then feel chilled. Sometimes it can be difficult to get back to sleep, or fall asleep in the first place. About one in four menopausal women suffer from insomnia. This can affect your mood and overall health.

- Changes in your appearance. After menopause, the weight in your hips and thighs may settle above your waist and on your stomach. You could notice a loss of fullness in your breasts, thinning hair and wrinkles in your skin.

- Emotional changes. As you go through menopause, you may experience mood swings, be more irritable or likely to get upset.