‘The Change’, ‘the Climacteric’, ‘the time of life’, whatever you want to call it; all woman will experience the menopause, but what is it?
As a woman gets older, there is a change in the balance of the body’s sex hormones. Your ovaries stop producing as much of the hormone ‘oestrogen’ and no longer release an egg each month. Periods will start to become less frequent over the course of a few months or years until they stop altogether, and a woman will no longer be able to get pregnant naturally. This change typically occurs when a woman is aged between forty-five and fifty-five, with the average age for women to reach the menopause in the UK being fifty-one(1).
In a few exceptional cases, women may become menopausal in their thirties, or even younger. This is known as premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency.
When Will You Reach the Menopause?
You’re said to have reached the menopause if you haven’t had a period for at least a year, but this is a gradual change. For a few years before you reach the menopause, your periods will become irregular. They’ll happen either more often or less often than they used to. You may also find that you have slightly heavier periods. This stage is the ‘perimenopause’, or menopausal transition, and can last for about four years. For some, this stage may last longer.
At around the age of fifty to fifty-five years, the monthly cycle stops completely. This means that you won’t have any more ovulations, no more periods, and no more pregnancies.
Does Anything Cause the Menopause?
Sometimes, the menopause is a result of some breast cancer treatments, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. It can even be brought on by an underlying medical condition, such as Down’s syndrome or Addison’s disease.(2) If a woman has an oophorectomy (surgery to remove the ovaries) then she will experience immediate menopause as a result of this.
Although all women experience the menopause, it is never the same for two women. Some will breeze through a hassle-free menopause, while others will struggle through rising symptoms. Whether you notice a dramatic change or not, remember that your health is important, and it’s your responsibility; this is a time when your body deserves some tender loving care.