All About Menopause: Menopause Age, Duration, Symptoms, And More
By: Rachel Lustbader
Updated February 03, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Deborah Horton
Whether you realize it or not, hormones affect your life every day. The levels of different hormones in our bodies vary based on gender, age, and other lifestyle factors. Sometimes, hormonal shifts go completely unnoticed. Other times, the changes can have a profound effect on our body and moods. Menopause falls into the latter category.
Menopause is something that will affect all women at some time in their lives. Still, many women do not fully understand what happens when they go through menopause, and most men know even less about it. Read on to learn all about menopause.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is a normal condition that affects all women, typically later in life. All women are born with a finite number of eggs, which are stored in the ovaries. When the ovaries no longer release an egg each month, and menstruation stops, menopause occurs.
What Is The Average Age For Menopause?
While there is no average menopause age, for most women it begins after the age of 40. When menopause begins after a woman is 40, it is considered "normal" and to be a natural part of aging.
However, some women experience premature menopause, in which menopause occurs before the age of 40. This is often caused by a medical procedure such as a hysterectomy, or damage to the ovaries which can happen due to chemotherapy. Other causes of premature menopause include genetics and autoimmune disorders.
Stages Of Menopause
Natural menopause, menopause not brought on by any medical treatment, is a gradual process. Although many women want a clear answer to how long menopause lasts, it can vary greatly between different women.
Menopause has three stages of varying durations. The three stages of menopause are as follows:
- Perimenopause: This stage can be thought of as "pre" menopause, as it occurs several years before a woman enters menopause. During this stage, the ovaries gradually begin to produce less estrogen but are still releasing eggs. During the final year or two of perimenopause, the rate of decrease in estrogen production quickens, and many women begin to experience symptoms of menopause. The frequency of menstruation will also decrease during this stage, and will ultimately cease.
- Menopause: After 12 months without her period, a woman officially transitions from perimenopause to menopause. At this point, the ovaries are no longer releasing any eggs and have stopped making most of their estrogen.
- Postmenopause: The years following menopause are known as postmenopause. At this time, symptoms of menopause greatly decrease for most women. However, health risks related to the loss of estrogen increase. During the postmenopausal years, women are more likely to experience conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Most women experience the majority of their symptoms during the perimenopausal stage when the most drastic hormonal changes take place. After reaching menopause, symptoms may continue for an average of four to five years, although they decrease in intensity. Throughout all of the stages of menopause, the frequency, intensity, and duration of symptoms can vary greatly between different women. Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes: Women may feel a sudden rush of heat in their head and upper body. Hot flashes can last anywhere from seconds to several minutes, or even longer. Some women experience hot flashes a few times a day, while others only a few times a month.
- Cold flashes: After a hot flash, women may experience chills or shivering as their body cools down.
- Night sweats: Hot flashes can also cause night sweats if they occur during sleep. Often night sweats can wake someone up and reduce their overall quality of sleep, making them feel more tired and groggy the next day.
- Insomnia: In some cases, hot flashes and night sweats are so severe that they cause insomnia. Other menopausal women experience insomnia without hot flashes and night sweats. This is likely due to a hormonal change that causes them to feel more awake.
- Emotional changes: The hormonal changes a woman experiences during menopause can lead to symptoms like depression, irritability, and mood swings.
While these are the most common symptoms of menopause, they are not the only symptoms. Some women may experience additional symptoms such as headaches, muscle and joint pain, hair loss or thinning, trouble with focus or memory, or weight gain. As previously mentioned, the severity and frequency of all menopause symptoms can vary dramatically between different women.
Coping With Menopause Symptoms
The experience of menopause will be different for each woman. Still, it is a major change for all women, and most experience some symptoms or can find it hard to adjust as their body transitions through menopause. Below are some suggestions on how to manage some of the symptoms of menopause.
Many women experience hot flashes during menopause or find that their body is far more sensitive to temperature than it ever has been in the past. Some simple ways to help manage hot flashes include:
- Dress in Layers: Wearing layers and having a top layer you can easily remove can make it easier for you to cool yourself down when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Drink Plenty of Water: One of the results of hot flashes is ample sweat. To replenish your body's water supply, be sure to up your water intake if you have regular hot flashes. Drinking water following a hot flash can also help regulate your internal temperature.
- Avoid Hot or Spicy Foods: This can be tough if you have always been a lover of spice, but eating hot or spicy foods can trigger a hot flash. If you struggle with hot flashes, it is best to avoid these foods until your menopause symptoms subside.
- Deep Breathing: Focus on taking slow, deep breaths when you feel a hot flash coming on. This breathing technique can lessen the severity of the episode.
Mood Swings, Irritability, And Other Emotional Changes
If you are prone to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), it is likely that you will experience similar symptoms while going through menopause. Even women who have never experienced much PMS in their lives are at risk for emotional changes during menopause like mood swings, depression, irritability, and increased sensitivity. While these symptoms may be less serious in regards to physical health, they can still cause major distress and disruption to one's life. If you are struggling with any of these emotional symptoms during menopause, try the following solutions:
- Therapy Or Counseling: The mood swings, depression, and other emotional changes that one may experience during menopause can be hard to adjust to. Many women feel that they do not have anyone to talk to about the changes they are experiencing. If this is the case, or if you just would like little extra support, therapy or counseling can be a game-changer. Therapists can help you manage your emotions and get through any rough patches. If you are not interested in or feel you do not have the time for traditional therapy, look into working with a therapist or counselor online.
- Exercise: Exercise is often mentioned as a natural way to relieve anxiety, depression, and stress, and for a good reason. Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, a hormone that is proven to improve mood. Walking, jogging, yoga, or going to the gym is also a good way to get some "me" time and release stress.
- Meditate: It can be hard to get into the habit of meditating, but once you do, it can work wonders for mood, stress, and anxiety. Start by trying short meditations (five minutes or less), and gradually increase the length or frequency of your meditations. Just a few minutes each day can help keep you calm and your moods stable.
All people experience a decline in memory function as they age. For women going through menopause, memory problems can seem to hit all at once. Experts believe it is related to the decrease in estrogen levels, not just aging. It can be extremely frustrating to struggle with memory. So, try these actions to better cope with the menopause symptom:
- Eat Well: A healthy diet fuels your entire body, including your brain. Focus on eating whole, nutritious foods that make you feel good to boost cognitive functioning. At the same time, cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and sugar and see if it helps with mental clarity.
- Experiment With Different Strategies: There are many strategies you can implement to try to get a better hold on your memory. For example, using acronyms to remember street names, or keeping a notepad and pen with you at all times to jot down reminders for things you worry you may forget.
- Prioritize Sleep: If you are struggling with insomnia during menopause, it could be making your memory problems worse. No one can think clearly or function optimally when they are sleep deprived. Make working on your insomnia your top priority and your memory may naturally improve as a result when you start getting higher quality sleep.
Some women experience insomnia during menopause due to hot flashes and night sweats that wake them up at night. Others have trouble sleeping for seemingly no reason, which experts suspect is due to a hormone shift that occurs during menopause which can cause some women to feel wakeful at night. Whatever the cause, it can be hard for women experiencing menopause to get restful sleep. If you are dealing with insomnia, try these tips to calm you down at night:
- Meditate: Meditating at night can help slow down your thoughts and put you in a calm state of mind, making it easier to fall asleep.
- Lower The AC: Try experimenting with the thermostat to see if keeping the bedroom cooler at night makes it easier to fall, and stay, asleep. Fans may also be helpful.
- Natural Supplements: There are many herbal sedatives on the market today that can help you relax at night. Even natural supplements can be habit-forming or interfere with other medications, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
- Take A Bath: A nighttime bath can help regulate your body temperature, as well as relax you.
Until a woman goes through menopause, there is no way to know exactly what to expect. The hormonal changes impact not only the body but also one's mood and emotions. If you are struggling with your mood and emotions during menopause, do not hesitate to reach out to a therapist or counselor.