Menopause, also called a woman’s “change of life”, starts when her period stops. One reaches menopause only when you’ve had no menstrual periods for one year.
Many women spend around 50 percent of their adult life as a postmenopausal females.
Menopause happens because your ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This decreased production of estrogen and progesterone can cause several changes in your body.
Common symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, sleep difficulty, weight gain, changes in hair growth and vaginal dryness.
Menopause is a life-changing process, and there are many things that you should be aware of. Knowledge will help you overcome the challenges of menopause and lead a healthy and happy life.
Here are some key things about menopause that every woman should know.
1. Age that Menopause Occurs
The average age that American women reach menopause is 52, but it can occur anytime between the ages of 45 and 58, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1).
Most women have their last period sometime between the ages of 45 and 55.
While the age of menopause is thought to be genetically determined, factors like smoking or chemotherapy can accelerate a decline in functioning of the ovaries, resulting in earlier menopause.
A 2011 study published in the Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics of North America reports that a number of factors seem to be important determinants of the age at which natural menopause occurs, including (2):
- Demographics, such as education, employment and race/ethnicity.
- Menstrual and reproductive factors, such as parity and oral contraceptive use.
- Familial and genetic factors.
- Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, weight, physical activity and diet.
2. Early Menopause May Happen
Even though the average age of menopause in the U.S. is 52, some women may reach it early.
Experts consider menopause before the age of 40 as early menopause. Contributing factors in early menopause include both genetics as well as medical conditions like an abnormal thyroid or a rheumatic disease, such as lupus.
Chemotherapy and radiation can also damage the ovaries and lead to early menopause.
Women whose ovaries have been removed as part of a medical treatment also undergo early menopause.
Smoking is another reason behind early menopause.
A 2015 study published in the BMJ reports that women who are heavy or habitual smokers are more likely to experience menopause earlier (3).
3. Perimenopause is Not Menopause
Do not confuse perimenopause with menopause. They are two different things.
While perimenopause refers to the period of time right before menopause begins, you enter the menopause stage officially once you have completely stopped having a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months.
During perimenopause, your body is beginning the transition into menopause. During this stage, the body makes less and less of the hormones that control your period – estrogen and progesterone. Due to these changes in hormone production, your menstrual cycle may become irregular, but it won’t cease.
At the same time, you may be having other symptoms like hot flashes, breast tenderness, weight gain, increase in heart rate, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, irritability and depression.
4. Hot Flashes are Common
While menopause leads to several symptoms, the most common one is hot flashes. In fact, about 75 percent of women experience hot flashes during menopause (4).
During a hot flash (vasomotor symptom), you’ll likely feel your body temperature rise, which in turn may cause sweating, heart palpitations and feelings of dizziness.
Hot flashes may happen during any time of the day, but it is very common at night. This leads to disturbed sleep and other health problems.
A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that menopausal vasomotor symptoms lasted more than seven years during the menopausal transition for more than half of the women and persisted for four and one-half years after menopause (5).
To reduce episodes of hot flashes, avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine, do not eat spicy food, reduce your stress level, stay in a cool place as much as possible and dress in layers.
5. Menopause Affects Bone Health
Once you reach menopause, you need to seriously take care of your bone health. The reduced estrogen production can affect the amount of calcium in your bones, which in turn can lead to low bone density and even osteoporosis.
Plus, women in the menopause stage can be at risk of bone fractures.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that late in perimenopause, bone loss accelerates substantially and continues at a similar pace in the initial postmenopausal years.
Also, your body weight is an important determinant of the rate of bone mass density loss during menopause (6).
Another study published in the Journal of Midlife Health in 2011 showed that menopause as well as age, exercise and a diet low in calcium acted as significant predictors of low bone density in Indian women (7).
To improve the health of your bones, be sure to eat foods with lots of calcium, such as dairy products or dark leafy greens from an earlier age, preferably beginning from your 20s. You can also take vitamin D supplements to assist the body’s absorption of calcium, but consult your doctor first.
6. Menopause Raises Heart Disease Risk
Menopause can raise your risk of heart disease.
A decline in the natural hormone estrogen may be a factor in an increase in heart disease among postmenopausal women.
Estrogen has a positive effect on the inner layer of the arterial walls, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. That means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow, according to the American Heart Organization (8).
Moreover, a study presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society found that menopause diminishes the impact of good cholesterol, thus making women more vulnerable to artery hardening during menopause (9).
To keep your heart in good health, keep a close eye on your weight, eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise daily, and avoid smoking and drinking in excess.
- Menopause basics. womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- The Timing of the Age at Which Natural Menopause Occurs. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285482/. Published September 2011. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Associations between lifetime tobacco exposure with infertility and age at natural menopause: the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Tobacco Control. http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2015/11/19/tobaccocontrol-2015-052510.short?g=w_tobaccocontrol_ahead_tab. Published November 19, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- What You Need to Know About Menopause. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/gynecological_health/introduction_to_menopause_85,P01535. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Duration of Menopausal Vasomotor Symptoms. JAMA Internal Medicine. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2110996. Published April 01, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Bone Mineral Density Changes during the Menopause Transition in a Multiethnic Cohort of Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266953/. Published March 2008. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Prevalence and related risk factors of osteoporosis in peri- and postmenopausal Indian women. Journal of Mid-Life Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296391/. Published 2011. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Menopause and Heart Disease. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Menopause-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_448432_Article.jsp#.Wq-boZfhXIU. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Menopause Diminishes Impact of Good Cholesterol. The North American Menopause Society. http://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/2015/good-cholesterol-decreases-menopause.pdf. Accessed March 19, 2018.