Menopause is a natural event for women.
In the lead-up to menopause your ovaries are less efficient, this results in sometimes dramatic changes to your oestrogen and other hormonal levels, until eventually your periods stop. You are said to be ‘postmenopausal’ after you have had no period for 12 months in a row. Menopause may occur naturally or as the result of medication or surgery.
On this page:
- What is menopause
- What does menopause mean
- When does menopause begin
- Why does menopause happen at all
- When menopause comes early
Menopause consists of three stages:
- Perimenopause (meaning ‘around menopause’) or the ‘menopause transition' is the years before the final menstrual period. During this time, oestrogen levels vary, which may cause hot flushes, changes in the frequency and heaviness of menstrual periods, vaginal dryness, mood changes and sleeping problems. Some women are still able to conceive during the menopause transition so you should continue to use contraception until at least twelve months after your final period if you don’t wish to become pregnant.
- Natural menopause is the spontaneous, permanent stop to menstruation, not caused by any medical treatment or surgery. It is confirmed by twelve consecutive months after your final period.
- Postmenopause is the time that follows menopause – a third of your life, or more.
Menopause means different things to different women and there are many cultures where menopausal symptoms are reported as not being as common as in the West.
The main symptoms in Western cultures are hot flushes and night sweats. For some Asian women, body and joint aches and pains are the most troublesome symptom.
Factors that may affect your experience of menopause
- Your age at menopause. Women going through menopause at the normal age (around 51) may be less alarmed by their symptoms and, perhaps, more informed about what to expect than women going through menopause at a younger age.
- Factors such as climate, diet, lifestyle and reproductive history.
- Your mother’s experience of menopause (your mother's attitude to menopause may influence your perspective and attitude to menopause).
- Your level of support from family and friends.
- Religious belief, career and attitudes regarding the end of reproductive life and your perspective of ageing.
Many women find it a relief to have finished with menstruation, but some find it difficult to deal with the symptoms of menopause due to hormonal changes during this time.
The average age at menopause is 51 years, but menopause may occur at an earlier or later age, and the reasons for this are not well understood. When menopause happens before 40 years it is called ‘premature’, and when it happens before 45 years it is called ‘early’.
As you grow older, the number of eggs in your ovaries capable of being fertilised begins to fall. The activity of the hormones made by the ovary (oestrogen and progesterone) becomes inconsistent. Eventually, the levels of hormones drop below those needed to stimulate ovulation or the growth and shedding of the lining of the uterus (womb), so menstruation ends permanently.
When menopause happens before 40 years it is called ‘premature’, and when it happens before 45 years it is called ‘early’.
Risks associated with premature menopause:
- increased vulnerability to bone loss and heart disease
- intense, complex emotional responses particularly if you are being treated for cancer or another serious illness.
Early menopause is particularly difficult for women who have not yet started or completed their families because of the low chance of achieving pregnancy. There may be still options for parenting, and these can be discussed with a fertility specialist.
The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.