Let’s start with a solid definition of menopause: Menopause is a natural event in a woman’s life that signals the end of menstrual cycles and the ability to get pregnant naturally. You can enter menopause naturally as you age and also through surgical menopause. A woman is considered to be in menopause when she has been period-free for 12 consecutive months (and there are no other apparent causes).
The average age of reaching menopause is 51 in the US, but it occurs most often between ages 45-55. However, women can enter menopause as early as their forties and even into their sixties. Your genetics and your environment can influence when you will enter menopause.
The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause, which means “around menopause.” This is a stage where women start to notice changes related to fluctuating hormone levels. Perimenopause starts on average between ages 40-45, but it can start as early as your 30s to late 40s.
Women can experience several frustrating symptoms in perimenopause and menopause that are associated with changing hormones and ovarian decline. In fact, that are at least 34 recognized symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Often, these symptoms are associated with other health conditions as well with can make it hard to tell what is really going on with your body. Hot flashes are the most commonly reported symptom of menopause. According to the North American Menopause Society, 75% of women will experience hot flashes during menopause and at least 25% of those women will seek help managing this symptom from their health care provider. Other common symptoms include:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Memory problems
- Mood changes including irritability, depression, and anxiety
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
- Low libido
While it is a normal part of the menopause transition to experience symptoms associated with changing hormones, these symptoms can be very debilitating and severely impact your quality of life. For women who are starting to notice changes that may be associated with menopause, this is a great time to meet with your medical provider to have a full health assessment and learn how to best care for yourself during this transition.