The average age of menopause is 51 years, but women may transition as early as their forties or as late as their sixties. While menopause itself is defined as a singular point in time - the day when a woman has gone twelve months without a menstrual period - the phase of life commonly referred to as “menopause” can last much longer. Some women don't notice any change before their periods stop, but many experience symptoms for months or years before and after their last period. How each woman experiences menopause will be entirely unique to her.
The Menopause Transition
Menopause occurs when a woman's ovaries nearly stop producing hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which ultimately results in the cessation of both menstruation and fertility. However, the symptoms of menopause can begin long before the last period. This phase is called perimenopause. Perimenopause symptoms occur because hormone levels become erratic as the ovaries transition into this cessation. After the last period, a woman is considered to be in postmenopause, which lasts for the rest of her life.
Here is a list of the four most common symptoms experienced during the menopausal transition.
There are many reasons why a woman might experience an irregular period, but once women reach their 40s and 50s, menstrual irregularity is usually one of the first signs of menopause. This can come as a surprise to women who have had their periods like clockwork for the past 20 or 30 years. It's good to keep in mind, though, that pregnancy is still possible despite irregular periods. Women do not reach menopause until they have not had a period for 12 months.
Hot flashes are one of the most commonly reported symptoms of menopause. According to one study, the typical age at which hot flashes appear is between 45 - 49 years old, while smaller numbers of women experience them when they are older than 50 or younger than 40. In general, the earlier hot flashes set in, the longer a woman will experience them.
Vaginal dryness is an extremely common symptom of menopause, typically occurring sometime between 40 and 55 years of age. Symptoms include itching, burning, soreness, pain, or light bleeding during intercourse. Vaginal dryness is caused by a drop in estrogen, a hormone that works to maintain normal vaginal lubrication, tissue elasticity, and natural acidity. Each of these factors helps keep vaginal tissue healthy.
Loss of Libido
This symptom often occurs alongside vaginal dryness, around ages 40 - 55. While a loss of libido does not need to be treated if it is not viewed as a problem, it can result in a decrease in well-being or relationship difficulties. Talking with your partner is the best way to work through this symptom.
Some women may require a full hysterectomy, referred to as “surgical menopause”, which can happen before age 40. Otherwise, experiencing these symptoms before age 40 merits a visit to your doctor.
To learn more, click on the following links to find out about how to deal with these menopause symptoms.
- National Institute on Aging. (2013). Menopause. Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause.
- Office on Women's Health. (2010). Menopause basics. Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics/index.html#c