Menopause marks the end of a female’s reproductive years. It is a natural process that involves hormonal and physiological changes. Knowing what to expect can make the transition simpler.
Everyone experiences menopause differently. For some, this can be a challenging time, especially if hormonal changes lead to symptoms such as hot flashes and anxiety. Others experience it as a time of liberation when they no longer need to think about menstruation and birth control.
Here are 10 essential menopause facts to help a person understand the process more.
Menopause does not happen suddenly for most people. It is a process, and not a distinct point in time.
During a person’s 30s or 40s, levels of estrogen and progesterone start to fall, and perimenopause begins. Periods may become less regular until they stop entirely.
Menopause typically starts 12 months after the last period. This is usually between the ages of 40–58, and the average is 51 years, according to the North American Menopause Society. Hot flashes typically last between 6 months and 2 years, but they can continue for 10 years or longer.
If a person has surgery to remove their ovaries, menopause will start almost immediately. Learn more about surgical menopause here.
Some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, can trigger menopause. In some cases, this is temporary, and menstruation starts again at some point after treatment finishes.
Some medical conditions can also cause menopause to begin at a lower age.
How do you recognize menopause? Find out here.
Perimenopause is the stage before menopause. It can last for 4–8 years. During perimenopause, the levels of estrogen and progesterone gradually decline.
Menstruation becomes less regular, and symptoms of menopause may start to appear.
Anyone who has concerns about symptoms should see a doctor to check that these are not due to a health condition, such as an overactive thyroid.
When a person is in their 40s, a missed period could be a sign of either pregnancy or menopause. How to tell the difference, and what is the next step?
Menopause is not an illness, but the hormonal changes that occur can trigger symptoms.
These can range from mild to severe, leading, in some cases, to discomfort and distress. Treatment can help manage symptoms.
Common symptoms include:
Hot flashes: Sudden sensations of heat in the upper body affect up to 75% of people.
Night sweats: These are hot flashes that occur at night.
Difficulty sleeping: Night sweats, mood changes, and anxiety can make it hard to sleep.
Vaginal dryness: Sex can be painful as a result.
Reduced libido: Sexual desire can fall as hormone levels drop, but vaginal dryness can also make sex uncomfortable.
Mood changes: Fluctuating hormone levels and environmental factors can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Hormonal changes can also contribute to osteoporosis. When a person has osteoporosis, their bone density decreases, and bones are more likely to break. The risk of osteoporosis rises during and after menopause.
If symptoms impact a person’s daily life, a doctor can prescribe medication.
Hormone treatment: This can resolve many issues by balancing hormones. However, it may not be suitable for those with a risk of blood clots, a stroke, breast cancer, dementia, and gallbladder disease. A doctor can advise the individual on their options.
Antidepressants: Low doses of paroxetine may help treat hot flashes.
Sexual well-being: Lubricants can help resolve vaginal dryness. If lubricants and natural remedies do not work, a doctor may prescribe vaginal hormones as a ring, cream, or tablet for applying directly to the vagina.
Preventing osteoporosis: A doctor may suggest regular bone density assessments to monitor bone strength. If results show that bones are getting weaker, the doctor may prescribe vitamin D supplements and make recommendations about diet and exercise to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Mood changes, anxiety, and depression: Hormone treatment may help, or a doctor can prescribe medication. Counseling and relaxation can help manage stress and depression. Some people find aromatherapy beneficial.
Get some tips here on how to manage hot flashes and night sweats.
Some people fear that menopause means they will be less attractive or unable to enjoy a full sex life. However, it can bring a new meaning to sex, as the need to think about menstruation and pregnancy abates.
Tips for maintaining an active sex life include:
- asking a healthcare provider about lubricants and other ways to reduce vaginal dryness
- exercising and following a healthful diet to keep the body fit and well
- spending intimate time together in non-sexual ways, such as a regular date night
- exploring new ways of arousal with a partner
A person’s partner may also be experiencing uncertainty about sex. Open communication can help both people overcome this barrier.
For those who are single, joining a local club, going on a singles holiday, or using a dating site may be options.
Get some tips here on sex after menopause.
The body does not stop producing estrogen after menopause. Estrogen plays a role in various essential functions, and the body still needs some estrogen, although in smaller amounts.
However, estrogen will no longer come from the ovaries. Instead, the adrenal glands produce hormones called androgens, and aromatase, which is another hormone, converts them into estrogen.
Why does the body need estrogen? Find out here.
According to a 2017 article, most people experience some weight gain around menopause, but those who did not have overweight before entering menopause can usually manage this with lifestyle measures.
The Office for Women’s Health note that many people gain an average of 5 pounds after menopause.
Reasons for weight gain may include:
- increased hunger due to changes in the hormones that control hunger
- changes to metabolism, due to hormonal factors
- eating less healthfully
- being less active
- other factors relating to midlife
Anyone who has concerns about weight gain should speak to a dietitian or doctor about suitable options, which will likely include dietary and exercise choices. Avoiding excess weight can help reduce the risk of various health problems in the long-term.
People who have obesity before or during menopause are more likely to experience hot flashes and other symptoms. Losing weight can help a person manage some of these challenges.
Click here for some tips on how to manage weight gain around menopause.
Many people say they have difficulty focusing and remembering things during menopause. Some call this “brain fog.” Stress is a significant factor.
Reasons for stress may include:
- the impact of physical changes
- domestic, professional, and other pressures
- concerns about aging
Ways of managing stress and thinking problems include:
- getting regular exercise
- joining a relaxation or yoga class
- keeping a diary on the kitchen wall with all upcoming events on it
- where possible, finding a balance between responsibilities and personal interests
- staying in touch with friends and family
- sharing with other people who are experiencing menopause
- seeking help if you are concerned about memory loss, anxiety, or depression
What is brain fog, and who can have it? Find out here.
Menopause marks the end of a female’s reproductive years, but it is still possible to become pregnant around or after this time.
Perimenopause can start 4– 8 years before menopause. As long as menstruation continues, a person can become pregnant. However, the chances of conceiving and having a full-term pregnancy decline as a person approaches menopause.
Advances in reproductive technology mean it is also possible to become pregnant after menopause. This will usually be with donated eggs or embryos that the individual preserved earlier in life.
There may be a higher risk of pregnancy loss, preterm birth, and risks to the woman’s health, depending on the individual’s age and health status at the time of conception.
However, as one expert points out, younger people who have not entered menopause may also experience similar issues.
Learn more here about becoming pregnant around the time of menopause.
Menopause affects a person’s health and well-being, but it is not a disease, and it does not mean the body is failing or that the person is getting old.
The hormonal changes that precede menopause begin when a person is in their 30s or 40s. In 2017, the average 50-year old female could expect to live to at least 83 years of age. Perimenopause starts less than halfway through the average lifespan.
As life expectancy increases and attitudes to aging evolve, people are starting to see menopause as a new beginning rather than an end.
Learn more here about what to expect during menopause.