Menopause is the point in time when a woman’s menstrual periods stop. Menopause happens because the ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Once you have gone through menopause, you can’t get pregnant anymore. Some people call the years leading up to a woman’s last period menopause, but that time actually is the menopausal transition, or perimenopause.
During the time of the menopausal transition (perimenopause), your periods can stop for a while and then start again. Therefore, the only way to know if you have gone through menopause is if you have not had your period for one year. (And it’s not menopause if your periods stop for some other reason, like being sick.) The average age of menopause is 51, but for some women it happens as early as 40 or as late as 55.
After you go through menopause, you are considered in the post-menopausal stage of your life. Your female hormones won’t go up and down the way they used to with your periods. They will stay at very low levels.
Some women worry about menopause, and it can cause uncomfortable symptoms. But there are many ways to treat symptoms and stay active and strong.
Usually, menopause is natural. That means it happens on its own, and you don’t need medical treatment unless your symptoms bother you. Sometimes, though, menopause is medically induced, which means it’s caused by an operation or medication. If so, you should work closely with your doctor to feel comfortable and take good care of your health.
Perimenopause, or the menopausal transition, is the time leading up to a woman’s last period. Periods can stop and then start again, so you are in perimenopause until a year has passed since you’ve had a period. During perimenopause a woman will have changes in her levels of estrogen and progesterone, two female hormones made in the ovaries. These changes may lead to symptoms like hot flashes. Some symptoms can last for months or years after a woman’s period stops.
There is no way to tell in advance how long it will take you to go through the menopausal transition. It could take between two and eight years.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you are in the menopausal transition. Symptoms, a physical exam and your medical history may provide clues to you and your doctor. Your doctor also could test the amount of hormones in your blood. But because hormones change during your menstrual cycle, these tests alone can’t tell for sure that you have gone through menopause or are getting close to it. Unless there is a medical reason to test, doctors usually don’t recommend it.
Menopause affects every woman differently. Some women have no symptoms, but some women have changes in several areas of their lives. It’s not always possible to tell if these changes are related to aging, menopause, or both.
Some changes that might start in the years around menopause include:
The symptoms that come with menopause can seem challenging. You can feel better, though.
Changes in your body in the years around menopause increase your chances of having certain health problems. Lower levels of estrogen and other changes related to aging (like possibly gaining weight) increase women’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.
There are many important steps you can take to build your health in the years around menopause:
Click here for additional information about menopause from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.