Your Guide to Menopause
Menopause is the end of a woman's menstrual cycle and fertility. It happens when:
- Your ovaries no longer make estrogen and progesterone, two hormones needed for fertility.
- Your periods have stopped for 1 year.
Menopause happens naturally with age. But it can also stem from surgery, treatment of a disease, or an illness. In these cases it’s called induced or surgical menopause, or premature ovarian failure.
When Does It Start?
Menopause starts around age 51 when it happens naturally. But it can happen before you turn 40. This is called premature menopause. The age at which yours will start is mostly determined by your genes.
What Are the Symptoms?
When it starts naturally, the first sign may be an irregular menstrual cycle. Once it gets off-schedule, it should stop completely within about 4 years. You might also notice these symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Lower sex drive
- Hot flashes
- Racing heart
- Vaginal dryness and soreness
- Painful sex
- Trouble sleeping
Some symptoms can last for years and affect your quality of life.
What Are the Stages?
The process happens slowly over three stages:
Perimenopause. Your cycles will become irregular, but they haven’t stopped. Most women hit this stage around age 47. Even though you might notice symptoms like hot flashes, you can still get pregnant.
Menopause. This is when you’ll have your final menstrual period. You won’t know for sure it’s happened until you’ve gone a year without one. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep problems, and other symptoms are common in this stage.
Postmenopause. This begins when you hit the year mark from your final period. Once that happens, you’ll be referred to as postmenopausal for the rest of your life. Keep in mind that after more than 1 year of no menstrual periods due to menopause, vaginal bleeding isn't normal, so tell your doctor if you have any ASAP.
Are There Any Tests for Menopause?
The most accurate way to tell if it's happening to you is to watch your menstrual cycles for 12 months in a row. It helps to keep track of your periods and chart them as they become irregular.