Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition, or perimenopause.
The menopausal transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55. It usually lasts about 7 years but can last as long as 14 years. During the menopausal transition, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by the ovaries, varies greatly. Bones become less dense, making women more vulnerable to fractures. During this period, too, the body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily.
Menopause may be triggered by a hysterectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries, which produce hormones. If you have surgery to remove your ovaries or uterus and are not taking hormones, you will experience the symptoms of menopause immediately.
This time in a woman’s life is often full of other transitions—not just physical ones. Women may be caring for aging parents or relatives, supporting their children as they move into adulthood, or taking on new responsibilities at work.
Is It Menopause?
If you are having symptoms commonly associated with the menopausal transition, your doctor may ask questions about your age, symptoms, and family history to determine if it really is the menopausal transition causing your symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may suggest a blood test to check your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol (E2) levels to rule out any other causes for the changes you’re experiencing.
The menopausal transition, sometimes called perimenopause, begins several years before a woman’s last period. During this time, women may experience spotty menstrual cycles, hot flashes, and other changes. While this time is commonly referred to as “menopause,” menopause doesn’t happen until 1 year after the final menstrual period.
After menopause, women enter post-menopause. Post-menopausal women are more vulnerable to heart disease and osteoporosis. At this time, it is important to eat a healthy diet and make sure you get lots of calcium to keep your bones strong.
A woman who doesn’t want to get pregnant should continue to use birth control for at least a full 12 months after her last period.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of menopause. Looking for some relief? Read about options to reduce hot flashes and ways to get a better night’s sleep.