Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to check for successful ovulation at home.
Written on 12/6/21
The more you know about menopause now, the more prepared you can be in the future.
It’s no secret that every person with a uterus will experience menopause. For many of us, this transition can be really intimidating. But, it doesn’t have to be!
The more you know about menopause now, the more prepared you can be in the future. Keep reading to learn how long menopause typically lasts.
What is menopause?
Menopause occurs when we stop having periods. This natural biological process signals the end of our reproductive years, once our ovarian reserve depletes completely.
We are considered “in menopause” once we haven’t had a period for at least 12 months. At this point, our hormones have changed and we are likely no longer ovulating.
As we get older and the amount of eggs left in our ovaries decreases, we no longer ovulate regularly each cycle, our ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone, and pregnancy becomes impossible.
Over time, our cycles may become shorter or longer, more or less frequent, until one day they stop altogether. Menopause marks the end of our periods and the final transition. The period in which our cycles become less regular is considered perimenopause — but more on that later!
Most of us will reach menopause around the age of 50-52, on average. Sometimes, menopause affects us when we’re younger, in our 40s or even our 30s. We consider this premature menopause, which may be caused by Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), ovarian or uterine surgery, or chemotherapy.
For centuries, most societies had traditional views about gender roles and a woman’s role was to be a housewife and a mother. The inability to conceive — even in menopause — was seen as a disease, and the stigma and taboos surrounding menopause began.
More recently, doctors and women’s associations have helped educate about menopause and offer support throughout the transition. After all, we’ll all reach this stage of life eventually and we should be aware of how it impacts our physical and mental health.
What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
The first signs of perimenopause may appear as early as 10 years before menopause. Perimenopause may be discreet at first, when hormones start to fluctuate. But, the signs and symptoms may get more pronounced as we get to the point when the ovaries stop functioning altogether.
Blood or urine hormone tests may confirm perimenopause as the cause of our symptoms. As we approach the end of our reproductive years, ovaries struggle to grow an egg every month and our hormone levels change.
Specifically, we may start seeing higher FSH levels (follicle stimulating hormone). FSH stimulates our ovaries to produce eggs in preparation for ovulation each cycle. When we have many eggs left, the ovary doesn’t need as much support from FSH.
However, as we approach perimenopause and menopause, we have less and less eggs left. This means the ovary needs more help producing said eggs and requires more FSH, leading to higher levels.
Additionally, we may see changes in other hormone levels, including estrogen, LH (luteinizing hormone), and progesterone. Diminished ovarian reserve and irregular cycles impact on fertility, due to a combination of age, egg quality, and the difficulties of correctly determining a fertile window.
However, we can still get pregnant during perimenopause. In fact, before the invention of the birth control pill, many women would have surprise pregnancies well into their mid 40s!
This is the reason why doctors may recommend using some sort of contraception until your periods end for good in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Once you have gone 12 months without a period, menopause will be retroactively diagnosed.
Once you have reached menopause, your ovaries no longer function, pregnancy is not possible, and you no longer have periods. However, you may experience perimenopause symptoms past the diagnosis of menopause, sometimes for years.
You may experience perimenopause symptoms past the diagnosis of menopause, sometimes for years.
How long does menopause last?
It is important to differentiate between three interconnected, yet different key phases:
- Perimenopause: The first stage in the process of female reproductive aging. It may last anywhere from 2 to 10 years and is characterized by symptoms of hormonal imbalance. You may still have periods, albeit irregular. You may still get pregnant, although fertility is diminished.
- Menopause: The moment you have reached an entire year without a period.
- Postmenopause: The stage after the diagnosis of menopause. The ovaries no longer produce eggs, you no longer have periods, and you can’t get pregnant anymore. Those who continue to experience symptoms of hormonal imbalance after entering postmenopause may benefit from hormone replacement therapy.
What can I expect during perimenopause?
Every cycle and transition to perimenopause and menopause is totally different. Our experiences may differ from one person to the next.
Usually, a doctor is able to diagnose perimenopause based on symptoms like:
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Irregular cycles
- Spotting between periods
- Worsened premenstrual symptoms
- Vaginal dryness
- Diminished sex drive
- Mood swings
Hormone changes may significantly impact your mood, emotions, and mental health overall. For some of us, managing symptoms may be difficult and can impact on the way we perform at work, interact with loved ones, and, ultimately, our overall well being.
Please know that perimenopause and menopause are normal, biological, and nothing to be ashamed of. Talking about our experiences and seeking support, if needed, can absolutely make the transition easier.
Please know that perimenopause and menopause are normal, biological, and nothing to be ashamed of.
How can I make the perimenopausal transition easier?
Hormones are no joke and hormonal imbalances can impact our day-to-day lives. But they don’t have to!
Science shows that perimenopause symptoms can be treated and eased. There is no magic cure, but you can feel better with just a few simple tricks.
A well-balanced and healthy diet can help prevent weight gain caused by hormonal changes. Also, eating foods that are less spicy and less hot can help you avoid hot flashes.
Exercise also promotes weight management, increases your energy, strengthens bones, and may improve your mood (yay endorphins!).
Yoga, meditation, and any relaxation techniques may also help decrease stress and promote a healthy hormone balance.
Supplements and other treatments
Herbal supplements may help balance hormones and relieve hot flashes or other symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), under the supervision of your doctor, may rebalance hormones and prevent the pesky symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Note that you will need to consult your doctor if you’re interested in HRT.
Finally, low-dose antidepressants can be helpful for some women in managing both mood swings and hot flashes. Again, we recommend consulting your doctor regarding this specific treatment.
Ultimately, knowledge is power and the more you know about menopause now, the better prepared you can be in the future to tackle this life phase with grace!