Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life and you can expect your experience to differ from other women.
As women approach their 40s and 50s, their periods become less frequent until they eventually stop, and they are unable to become pregnant naturally. This process leads to the menopause.
Read more: 10 questions about the menopause answered
Women go through the natural process of menopause in three stages:
- In this phase, your body begins to produce fewer eggs from your ovaries and less oestrogen, causing irregular periods. Some women will have shorter or longer periods and sometimes lighter or heavier periods. The most common symptoms women have during perimenopause are hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and reduced sex drive.
- Menopause actually refers to the point in time when you have had no periods back-to-back, for exactly one year. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51 years.
- Women who have stopped having their periods for at least one year will be referred to as postmenopausal for the rest of their lives. Most symptoms of menopause will reduce in this phase but some women may still experience a few symptoms like hot flushes, sleep problems, joint pains and vaginal dryness for a few more years.
The exact time these stages happen differs from one woman to another.
There are some factors that can influence the timing and experience of menopause symptoms.
Read more: 34 symptoms of the menopause
Certain lifestyle factors can cause women to experience menopause earlier than others. For example, women who are stressed, overweight and smoke are more likely to have an early menopause, which usually happens before they’re 45 years old.
However, positive lifestyle factors like regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, help improve menopausal symptoms of low mood and sleep problems.
The genetic make-up of some women cause them to begin the menopause in their late 30s. This is referred to as premature menopause. Usually, knowing when your mother and grandmother started menopause may provide a rough guide as to when you are likely to begin your menopause phase.
Women born with genetic conditions like Turner syndrome and Fragile X syndrome have ovaries that don’t function properly, causing them to have premature menopause.
Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease makes the body’s immune system to attack and damage organs like the ovaries, causing women with these conditions to begin menopause prematurely.
Medical interventions, such as hysterectomy or chemotherapy that result in the removal of or damage to the ovaries, can cause menopause to begin suddenly, rather than follow its natural, gradual progression.
How long does menopause last?
Menopause symptoms usually lasts anywhere from 2 to 10 years; however, most women take about 4 years to reach menopause.
As a general guide, you have reached menopause at the point when 12 months have elapsed since your last period.
Going through menopause prematurely or suddenly can cause uncomfortable and distressing symptoms to begin within a shorter time frame compared to a natural menopause.
Your doctor can advise you on how to manage your symptoms to help you with the transition to post-menopause.