What Age Does Menopause Occur?
Some women may look forward to menopause, while others may feel a sense of trepidation. It certainly isn’t called a “change of life” for no reason.
When you hit menopause, your menstrual cycles come to an end. That means no more bleeding and no more ovulation. After your cycles end, you are no longer fertile.
You can also expect quite a few other physical and psychological changes as you enter a new phase of life.
There are a couple of reasons why you may be trying to establish when menopause is likely to occur:
- You want to conceive a child, and are trying to plan your future. Maybe you are already in your 30s or your 40s, and you are not sure how much time you have left before the opportunity is gone forever.
- You have a hormonally sensitive condition, and you are aware that menopause may bring additional drastic changes to your health situation. You want to plan ahead and be prepared.
- You are simply curious. Perhaps you are already experiencing some menopause symptoms, and are wondering whether menopause has already begun.
How is Menopause Defined?
Defining menopause may seem straightforward, but you cannot say that menopause has occurred if you are in your 40s or 50s and you have missed a period or two. There are other reasons that might occur. Plus, you will go through around four years of irregular periods before you actually reach menopause.
To say that menopause has definitively occurred, you must not have had any periods for an entire year. Additionally, your ovaries can no longer be manufacturing estrogen and progesterone.
When Does Menopause Usually Start?
On average, menopause starts around age 51. But it can actually happen earlier or later than that by quite a margin.
How Early or Late Can Menopause Start?
Just how big is that margin? Some women actually reach menopause before the age of 40. In these cases, it is called “premature menopause.” Menopause may also occur after age 55, in which case it is called “late-onset menopause.”
Sometime before you actually reach menopause, you should start noticing the symptoms of perimenopause.
What is Perimenopause? When Does Perimenopause Begin?
Perimenopause does not get as much attention as menopause, but it probably should. Earlier I mentioned that you may experience around four years of irregular periods before your menstrual cycles cease completely. This period of time is known as perimenopause, and is the transition into menopause.
The reason that your periods become irregular during perimenopause is that your ovaries are gradually producing less and less estrogen. This also accounts for the other symptoms of perimenopause, which are very similar to those of menopause itself or hormonal imbalance such as estrogen dominance:
- Hot flashes
- Tender breasts
- PMS which is more severe
- Mood swings
- Urinary urgency and/or leakage
- Vaginal dryness
- Lower sex drive
- Sleep disorders
Because perimenopause and hormonal imbalance can mimic each other, it may be difficult to figure out initially what is going on if you do start displaying these symptoms.
Point in case, when my estrogen dominance symptoms started, I saw a few doctors to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. None of them figured it out. But I do remember one of them asking, “Could you be in menopause?” I laughed and responded, “I’m 22.”
For most women, perimenopause starts at age 40-something. If 51 is the typical age to reach menopause, and four years is the average length of time for perimenopause, that means that typically you might expect perimenopause to ensue around age 47.
But just as menopause can begin earlier or later, so can perimenopause. Some women start experiencing the first symptoms of perimenopause in their 30s or even in their 20s. This is why a doctor suspected I might be in menopause even when I was in my early 20s.
So if age is not enough to help you guess whether you have started perimenopause, here is something else which may help you spot the difference between perimenopause and similar conditions. With perimenopause, usually you will start experiencing the irregular periods first. Only in the last couple of years, once the estrogen production really takes a dive, will you start experiencing the menopause-like symptoms.
So basically, if you are in your 40s and you have had a couple years of irregular periods and are now experiencing menopause symptoms, you are probably a couple of years out from menopause. But if you are in your 20s and you have started experiencing menopause symptoms out of the blue, chances are better than you have some other health condition (like estrogen dominance). But you may still be experiencing perimenopause.
In my case, I had several months without a period, but then my periods became more regular again. Plus, my menopause-like symptoms actually preceded the missing periods, so that would not fit a classic perimenopause pattern.
The other thing to know about perimenopause is that the length of time it lasts can vary, just as its start date can vary. While perimenopause typically lasts for around four years, it may last only a few months, or it could go on for a decade. This also adds some variance to when menopause can begin.
So two women could start their perimenopause at the exact same age. But one of them could reach menopause within four years, while the other might reach menopause six years after that. A third woman starting her perimenopause simultaneously might reach menopause in under a year.
So once you do start perimenopause, you can make some guesses as to when your menopause will begin, but you are looking at a range, not a solid timeframe.
Why Does Menopause Occur At Different Times for Different Women?
Why is there so much variation when it comes to menopause timing? Why do some women reach menopause before turning 40, while others still have not hit menopause at age 55?
There are a number of factors which may play a role:
Genes typically play a major role in the age at which a woman reaches menopause. That means that one way you may be able to predict when you can expect your menopause is to look at your family members. There is a good chance that you will reach menopause at around the same age as your mother. If there is variance throughout your family, you might reach menopause at the same time your grandmother or one of your aunts did.
2. Genetic mutation
In some cases, a genetic mutation occurs, so there is a “one-off.” Instead of following suit with the rest of your family, you could have your menopause at a seemingly random age. This is why even if most of the women in your family reached menopause around age 51, your menstrual cycles could cease before you turn 40. Or you could reach menopause much later than everyone else in your family.
Averages for menopause age vary according to ethnicity as well. Black and Hispanic women are more likely to have an earlier menopause, while Asian women are more likely to experience a later menopause. Caucasian women fall somewhere in the middle.
4. Ovarian surgery
If you have had surgery on your ovaries, that damages healthy tissue. This may have an impact on when you reach menopause.
Chemotherapy also damages the ovaries. In fact, if you go through chemotherapy, there is a chance your menstrual cycles could cease during the treatments. Sometimes this is temporary, and periods return at a later date. Other times, it is permanent. But even if your periods do come back, you will probably have an earlier menopause when you do get there.
Smoking is a lifestyle choice which damages ovarian tissue. As such, it can result in an earlier menopause. Note that you should consider this when you look at family history. If your mother is a smoker and you are not, the age at which she reached menopause likely will be earlier than the age at which you will.
Sometimes obesity can play into late-onset menopause, so that is something to look into if you are over 55 and still have not reached menopause.
8. Hormonal imbalances
Sometimes late-onset menopause is tied to unusually high estrogen levels, disorders of the thyroid, or other imbalances. A doctor may be able to shed some light on this if this is your situation. Note that a thyroid disorder is one of the conditions that can actually imitate menopause, so this can make matters very confusing.
Now that you know the main factors which may influence the age at which you reach menopause, here are a few factors which do not have an influence:
- How old you were when you got your first period. You might think that the earlier you started your menstrual cycles, the sooner you would reach menopause, but age does not appear to have any impact.
- Birth control use. This also has no impact on when you reach menopause. This is because using birth control does not stop the constant loss of follicles.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding. Neither of these are factors in menopause age.
Is It Better to Reach Menopause Early or Late?
All of this may lead you to wonder whether an early menopause is better or a late one. The matter is of course subjective in many ways. If you are in your 40s and trying to conceive, obviously a late menopause would serve you well. If however you are desperate for an end to your menstrual cycles, you may be happy to go through early menopause.
From a health standpoint, there are pros and cons either way. Osteoporosis for example becomes a common problem for women after their ovaries stop producing hormones. So if you have early-onset menopause, that could increase your risk for developing osteoporosis.
On the other hand, a lifetime of exposure to estrogen is not without its damaging effects. Late-onset menopause means more exposure to estrogen, and that means a heightened risk for uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer. So it is essentially a matter of “pick your poison.”
That being said, you really cannot “pick” your poison at all. There is nothing much you can do to impact when you will reach menopause. If you do have a health condition that could impact when you reach menopause, you should treat it in order to improve your overall health. Avoiding smoking may reduce your chances of an early menopause, while avoiding obesity may reduce your chances of a late menopause. In the end, things probably will even out. The best thing you can do is just be prepared.
At What Point Can You No Longer Get Pregnant During Perimenopause or Menopause?
As you get older, more and more of your remaining eggs are not viable. That means that even though you may be ovulating, not all of your eggs can be fertilized. Even among those which can be, there are more likely to be problems with chromosomes, which could result in a miscarriage.
As such, your fertility declines the older you get. This makes it harder and harder to get pregnant as you move toward menopause—but not impossible. In fact, if you are in perimenopause, you may still be producing some viable eggs. That means that there is a chance you could get pregnant. If you are trying, that is good news. If however you are not, it should be a reminder to use birth control and exercise caution so that you do not become pregnant.
After you do reach menopause, you cannot get pregnant anymore. Remember, in order to say definitively that you have reached menopause, you must not have had any menstrual cycles for at least twelve months, and your hormone measurements need to match a menopausal profile.
That means that your estrogen and progesterone levels should be very low (not nonexistent—that is a myth). You also should have an elevated level of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
This is something to talk to your healthcare provider about. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, you should take no unnecessary chances.
What if you are in your 30s now, expect to hit menopause in your 40s or 50s, but do not expect to be ready to have a family until later?
It is something of a tradition in our society to rush marriage at this point—think of the numerous references to “my clock is ticking,” in various romantic comedies and sitcoms.
This is not your only option, though. Technology has advanced significantly. If you still have plenty of viable eggs, you can even have some of your eggs frozen. That way you can use one or more at a later date. While this is expensive, it may cost less in the long run than fertility treatments—it may also reduce the risk of birth defects or other complications. You can also of course always consider adoption. The world is full of children in need of loving parents.
When Do Menopause Symptoms End?
Now that you know more about when menopause begins, you may be wondering how long your symptoms will last. There can be quite a bit of variation here, but symptoms may persist for an average of five years after the date of your last period.
If you have early-onset menopause or your symptoms are pronounced during perimenopause (some women do not really experience full-on hot flashes and other symptoms until they actually reach menopause), you may experience a decade or more of symptoms altogether.
What Can Be Done to Ease the Transition and Reduce Menopause Symptoms?
If the symptoms of perimenopause or menopause are bringing you discomfort, the best thing you can do is take an herbal supplement to help balance out your hormone production. This should alleviate much of your discomfort in a gentle, natural way. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is also an option, but it can bring many adverse health effects with it. This is why I always advise natural methods where possible. Explore our blog to learn more about herbal remedies for menopause and other lifestyle changes you can make to increase your comfort during this time of transition.
Regardless of when you start and end your menopause, it will be a huge change in your life. It will bring challenges and inconveniences, and you will need to overcome those. But it will also bring opportunities, and that is something to be optimistic about, not something to dread.
Through treating your symptoms and examining closely where you are in life and where you want to be, you will have a chance to get to know your body and mind better, paving a road to health and happiness as you enter a new stage of life. In that sense, menopause can be not just an end, but also a new beginning.
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