One of the most common searches about menopause is the age that it occurs. When the first symptoms of menopause start happening, you may want to find out if you are old enough. Or when symptoms seem to last long after menopause has occurred you might be wondering when it will end. In order to answer these questions let’s make sure that the stages of menopause are clearly defined.
Menopause occurs when you are no longer ovulating and can no longer become pregnant naturally. It is official when you have not had a menstrual period for one full year. Menopause is actually a transition between being reproductive and not being reproductive, but it commonly refers to the stage of life surrounding the menopause transition. For most women menopause naturally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 with the average age being 51.
Perimenopause is the stage leading up to menopause. It is less well defined, but is generally the time when menstrual periods become less regular. Your body no longer ovulates on a regular basis. Perimenopause normally occurs after age 40 but can occur sooner for some women. It can extend into the 50s for some women.
During perimenopause aside from irregularity of menstrual cycles women may notice many of the symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, sleep problems, mood swings and brain fog.
Many women are overwhelmed by the changes happening at this time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you pay attention to what your body needs during this period you will stay healthier and happier for the rest of your life. If your diet needs work, then take a look at what changes you can make. Review this list of superfoods for some ideas.
Make sure you are getting exercise. This will help immensely with energy levels, sleep and other menopause symptoms. But pay more attention to how your body is feeling. If you are having a really low energy day, then a walk or a yoga session might be what your body needs, rather than a high intensity spin class. Try to include weight bearing exercise and strength training so you can maintain bone density as you get older.
Other lifestyle changes may be helpful at this time. If you smoke, try to stop. If you consume alcohol, you might want to cut back. Try to maintain friendships and support networks at this time, but you may also find a need for more alone time.
Post menopause is the period after menopause. It was previously believed that symptoms of menopause would only last for 3 to 5 years after your last menstrual period, but recent studies show that most women continue to have hot flashes for 12 years after menopause and some for even longer.
This may be where the idea that taking hormone replacement only delays the symptoms comes from. Women who took HRT for 5 years post menopause and then experienced hot flashes were only experiencing a normal duration of symptoms which had been alleviated for a time with HRT.
By the time you are post menopausal, you may see a lessening of symptoms or at least you will be getting used to them. But eating healthy and exercising during this time are even more important than before. Many women find that energy levels improve when they are post menopausal so use this energy to get back into more high intensity exercise, if you have let it lapse. Work up to higher intensities using interval training. Keep including a balance of lower intensity exercise and strength training.
You still want to maintain a healthy weight during this time, but the definition of a healthy weight changes as we get older. It is healthier for older adults to have a higher BMI.
Premature and early menopause
Premature menopause is when menopause occurs before age 40. Early menopause is when menopause occurs between the ages of 40 and 45.
Premature menopause can be caused by premature ovarian failure. This is when the ovaries stop functioning before age 40.
Premature and early menopause can also be caused by damage to the ovaries from chemotherapy or other cancer treatment or by the removal of the ovaries. Certain drugs, smoking, chronic diseases or other medical conditions can lead to an earlier start to menopause.
Genetic factors also contribute. You will likely start menopause at a similar age to your mother. Your age of menses also determines your age of menopause. If you started your first period by age 11 or younger, you are more likely to start menopause earlier.
Women going through premature menopause usually experience the same symptoms that occur during perimenopause, including irregular menstrual cycles. It can also be detected by a blood test that measures hormone levels.
Women who go through premature or early menopause are at increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, dementia and early death than women who have later menopause. This is because they lose the protective effects of estrogen earlier.
If you experience premature or early menopause make sure that you take extra precautions to protect your health. This means making extra sure that you are following the recommendations for a healthy lifestyle that I recommended earlier in the article.
When the ovaries are removed surgically this is referred to as an oophorectomy. This can happen at any age and is done for various reasons. If done before the age of 40, then it is considered premature menopause.
The ovaries continue to produce a small amount of estrogen after menopause, so women who undergo an oophorectomy have less estrogen than other women after menopause and experience even more health risks. They also experience more severe menopausal symptoms because the change is so sudden.
Some women with a higher risk for ovarian cancer will choose to have their ovaries removed. But the loss of estrogen causes many other health risks so this decision should be made carefully.
What to do now
Whatever stage of menopause you are at, healthy eating and regular exercise are important. The earlier you start the better your experience with menopause will be.