Clinically reviewed by Jessica Anderson-Brown, APRN-WHNP.
Menopause is the 12-month period that starts with your last period. After a year without a period, you enter what’s called post-menopause.
Menopause typically begins in your 40s or 50s but may not occur until your 60s. The average age of onset in the U.S. is 51.
Perimenopause: Menopause Is Approaching
Knowing when you’re in menopause can be challenging because it’s preceded by several years of perimenopause or pre-menopause. This stage typically lasts four to eight years and can begin as early as your 30s.
Natural declines in estrogen and progesterone levels cause perimenopause. These hormone changes result in several symptoms, many of which continue into menopause and post-menopause. They include:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Trouble sleeping
- Slowing metabolism
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Trouble concentrating and memory lapses
- Lower sex drive
- Joint and muscle aches
- Sexual discomfort
- Facial hair growth
- Urinary incontinence
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
The irregularity of periods can include a shorter menstrual cycle and also skipping periods. You can still become pregnant during perimenopause, so if you’re unsure of the cause of a missed period, it’s a good idea to take a pregnancy test.
Menopause: Your Menstrual Cycle Ends
You reach menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 consecutive months. Because you’ve stopped ovulation (meaning your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs), you can no longer become pregnant.
Post-Menopause: Changing Health Risks
The stage after menopause is called post-menopause. The ovaries still produce estrogen and progesterone but in much smaller amounts. Some perimenopause/menopause symptoms continue for up to seven years after your last period, although they’re often milder.
Menopause-related hormone changes increase your risk of certain health conditions, including osteoporosis and heart disease. Consequently, it’s essential to be familiar with their symptoms and the steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Menopause that occurs before the age of 40 is considered premature. It can be caused by things like surgical removal of the ovaries or damage to them from chemotherapy or radiation. If there’s no known cause for premature menopause, it’s called primary ovarian insufficiency.
There’s no cure for menopause, but there are actions you can take to reduce the symptoms. For example, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and using over-the-counter medications can help.
However, if your symptoms are intense and interfere with your daily activities, your doctor can prescribe treatments. They include various hormone therapies, antidepressants to help with depressive symptoms, vitamin D to reduce your osteoporosis risk, and others.
You shouldn’t feel you have to “just deal with” menopause symptoms. If you’re uncomfortable and unhappy, talk with your doctor!
Learn About Women’s Services at Baptist Health
Menopause is a normal part of aging, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Whether you need treatment or simply have questions about what you’re experiencing, our women’s health experts are happy to talk with you and provide guidance and compassionate care.
Learn about our women’s services.