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When Does Menopause Occur?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 3 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Menopause Female Periods Age Change Of

If you are a female who has not yet reached menopause, you may be wondering just when this 'change of life' will occur. Or perhaps you have begun to experience menopausal symptoms and you want to be sure that what you are experiencing is normal for your age. A common misuse of the word 'menopause' is that it is applied to all of the changes occurring in a female's body leading up to the cessation of menstruation. In truth, however, menopause is really the end of this process – the culmination of the hormonal changes in the ovaries.

Defining Menopause

Menopause is said to have occurred the day after a female's final menstrual period is over. It's actually a precise date that is retrospective in the sense that it occurs when twelve months have passed where the woman has no menstruation at all. This means that clinically, a woman is said to have reached menopause when twelve months have passed since her last menstrual period. A woman would then be considered infertile and would not need to be worried about pregnancy. Most women in westernised countries will experience menopause around the ages of forty-five to fifty-five.

However, the average age that menopause occurs is fifty-one. Still, some women will experience an early menopause due to special circumstances such as surgical removal of reproductive organs. In these instances, a woman will experience menopause abruptly and immediately. Other women who undergo cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can suffer damage to their ovaries, which can then trigger menopausal symptoms leading up to menopause.

Perimenopause and When it Occurs

While the concept of menopause is frequently used to relate to all of the various stages of menopause, it is still important to understand each menopause stage and what you can expect to experience in each one. In this way, you can better grasp the differences in timing for each aspect of menopause. One of the newer terms to describe this 'change of life' is known as perimenopause.

During this time, most of a woman's reproductive hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone will decrease. The levels can fluctuate widely and can't be predicted for each woman. Perimenopause can occur over a number of years leading up to menopause and afterwards. This is the time when fertility declines as well.

The Timing of Premenopause

The years that lead up to your last period are known as premenopause. During this time, hormone levels will be very erratic as they decrease and you will likely be experiencing many of the menopausal side effects. You may experience hot flashes, irregular periods and mood changes in addition to other physical signs that signify you are approaching menopause.

Your Postmenopause Experience

The postmenopausal time span is the time after your last menstrual period has occurred. Essentially, it is the time span after your ovaries are no longer active. Although you may be past the majority of menopausal symptoms, you may still find that they continue to persist for a number of years during the postmenopausal time period.

It's actually not easy to predict exactly when menopause will occur for each woman. As mentioned – in westernised countries, the average age of menopause is fifty-one but you could even begin to experience symptoms associated with declining levels of oestrogen as early as your thirties and you could continue to experience menopausal symptoms right into your sixties. Your own symptoms and the timing for menopause will be unique and will not be exactly the same as your friends.

Beginning of Changes

In your mid to late forties, you might find that you notice your menstrual cycle isn't quite the same as usual. For many women, their periods can be the first menopausal sign that they notice, which tells them that menopause is on its way. Your genes will also influence when menopause occurs, which means that if you have family members who experienced an early menopause, you will be more likely to experience an early menopause as well. Certain lifestyle factors such as smoking can also cause you to experience an earlier menopause than your peers.

Ultimately, there is no exact way to predict when your periods will stop and a natural menopause will occur. The only accurate predictions will generally relate to surgically induced menopause. In any other instances, you may learn you are more susceptible to an earlier or later 'change of life'. Still, the best preparation you can take for when your menopause occurs is to commit to a healthy lifestyle. You can aim to reduce the factors that predispose you to an early menopause, which can help you to ease through the transition with fewer menopausal side effects.

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