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When Will You Reach Menopause?

What matters, and what doesn't, when trying to predict when you'll reach menopause.

Not a Factor

Here are three things you might think would influence menopause age, but don’t:

  1. Age at first period. Although the average age of menarche (onset of first menstrual period) has been getting younger in U.S. women, there hasn’t been a corresponding shift in the average age at menopause. The average age at menarche is now about 12.4 years old, down from 13.3 in women born prior to the 1920s, but the average age at menopause has been around 51.5 for decades. “You would assume that a woman only has so many cycles in her life and if she menstruates later, she’ll reach menopause later, but that doesn’t seem to be true,” Cedars says.
  2. Pregnancy and breastfeeding. These have no impact on menopause age.
  3. Use of hormonal birth control methods. “Even if you’re using a birth control method that stops ovulation, it doesn’t stop the loss of follicles, the constant process of the ovary taking them from the resting pool of eggs,” Cedars says. “All the follicles available in the cohort that month die away, even if you’re not ovulating, so birth control doesn’t appear to delay menopause."

There is no way to delay menopause; it can only be sped up, not slowed down, by external factors.

And there are some factors that are still unknowns. For instance, researchers are studying bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make certain plastics, in relation to various cancers as well as the reproductive system and metabolic processes.

Could BPA exposure influence age at menopause? “My guess would be no, since the age of menopause hasn’t changed much over the years as we’ve been exposed to more of these environmental toxins, but research will be exploring the role of substances like BPA in ovarian function,” Santoro says.

Predicting Menopause Age

Other than avoiding smoking, there’s probably not much you can do to influence the age at which you’ll reach menopause. But as you get closer to that time, it will be easier to predict more accurately when it will happen.

"If you’re over the age of 45 and skip at least three periods in a row, that tells us that you’re going to move on to menopause relatively soon," Santoro says. “But we’re still working on blood tests to see if we can predict this more accurately.”

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Reviewed on June 11, 2012

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