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When Does Menopause Start? What to Expect at Any Age

By Sue Benzuly, RN HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 22, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life. If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms, you may wonder at what age does menopause start.

Typically, it occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. This article will tell you what you need to know about early and premature menopause.

The Office on Women’s Health, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes that menopause is when your monthly period stops permanently. Sometimes it is referred to as “the change of life” or “going through the change.” It does not happen suddenly, but is rather a time of transition.

When does menopause start?

“Menopause is a retrospective diagnosis and is said to have happened when menstrual activity has ceased for at least 12 consecutive months in the absence of any other physiological or pathological explanation for the same," Dr. Vikram Talaulikar, an associate specialist in reproductive medicine at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, writes in the journal Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. "It marks the end of reproductive life and follicular activity.”

The average age of menopause is 52, but it can occur between 45 and 58 years of age. When menopause starts can be confusing; the transition to menopause starts during the perimenopause phase and ends when you have reached the one-year mark without a period.

According to the U.S. National Institute on Aging, the transition from perimenopause to menopause can last seven to 14 years. The duration of the transition can be affected by many things:

  • Smoking
  • Age when the transition begins
  • Race
  • Ethnicity

What is perimenopause?

The first phase in reaching menopause is perimenopause.

Women start perimenopause at different ages, usually in their 40s but sometimes as early as their mid-30s, according to the Mayo Clinic. During this time, the level of estrogen produced by your body rises and falls unevenly. These changing estrogen levels can cause your periods to go haywire. Your cycle may become longer or shorter. Perimenopause can last for several years; you are not considered to have reached menopause until you have completed one full year without your period.

Symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • Irregular periods -- a persistent change of seven or more days in the length of your cycle can indicate early perimenopause, while a space of 60 days or more between periods can indicate late perimenopause.
  • Hot flashes -- sudden surges in body temperature that may be accompanied by redness and sweating.
  • Sleep issues -- sometimes caused by hot flashes, sometimes occurring on their own
  • Mood changes -- irritability and increased risk of depression, sometimes caused by sleep issues
  • Vaginal and bladder problems -- low estrogen levels can change vaginal tissue leaving a woman susceptible to bladder and vaginal infections and making intercourse painful.
  • Decreased fertility -- it is still possible to become pregnant. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, it is advisable to continue to practice birth control.
  • Changing cholesterol levels -- leading to an increased risk of heart disease

What is early and premature menopause?

The Office on Women’s Health describes early menopause as occurring before age 45, and premature menopause as occurring before age 40. This can happen naturally or if both ovaries are removed during a hysterectomy or oophorectomy. Other reasons for early or premature menopause include:

  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation treatments for cancer
  • Certain health conditions, including autoimmune diseases; HIV and AIDS; missing chromosomes, and chronic fatigue syndrome

If you are having symptoms of perimenopause or menopause or are uncertain about the changes you are experiencing, your health care provider can order blood work to measure your levels of estrogen and other hormones. These tests can let you know if you have entered menopause by determining your fertility.

If you are experiencing any of the signs of perimenopause or menopause, your health care provider can help you navigate the symptoms. They may be able to help you manage hot flashes, weight gain, vaginal dryness and mood changes so that they do not disrupt your daily life. By seeking support, staying informed and living a healthy lifestyle, it is possible to navigate menopause with grace and vitality.

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