Women make up 50 percent of the world’s population and every one of us will go through menopause. Unfortunately, far too many of us will do so without a comprehensive—or even adequate—understanding of what is happening to our bodies and moods during this transition. Menopause brings about the end of menstruation, but there is much more to know about the journey and long-term health implications.
Menopause is different for every woman. Some experience multiple, severe symptoms, while others have an easy transition. But one thing is certain: Menopause is more than hot flashes and it doesn’t happen overnight. In addition to possible physical, emotional, and cognitive effects, there are also societal and workplace implications for women during menopause.
We talk about women being “in menopause.” Officially, however, menopause is the term for when a woman has not had her period for 12 consecutive months. But this simple definition belies the multi-phased, years-long experience that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years and the beginning of a new life stage.
As with puberty, women officially reach menopause at different ages, mostly between 45 and 55. Menopause can also be triggered by surgery and medical treatments. The menopause journey has three phases: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause, each of which differs in symptoms and duration for every woman.
Menopause is confusing. No two women have exactly the same experience and few know when perimenopause even begins. Menopause can arrive naturally, due to surgery, or as a result of medical treatment. It can come on early or late, slowly or abruptly. The menopause transition is not one-size-fits-all.
Premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop functioning properly before she turns 40; it can happen as early as the teens.
Early menopause is when periods cease between the ages of 40 and 45.
Natural menopause, which is how the majority of women experience menopause, is when the final period arrives between ages 45 and 55, with the average age being 51.
Late menopause is when a woman has her final period after the age of 55.
Medical menopause can be caused by medical treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and ovarian suppression therapy. Because it happens immediately after surgery or treatment, not gradually as with natural menopause, medical menopause is often accompanied by severe menopause symptoms.
Surgical menopause is the instant cessation of menstruation resulting from a bilateral oophorectomy (when the ovaries are removed) or a radical hysterectomy (when the uterus and ovaries are removed), both of which eliminate the body’s hormone-producing organs. Women who enter menopause surgically often experience more severe symptoms than women who come to menopause naturally because of the sudden and extreme shift in hormone levels.
Please answer the questions to complete the symptoms checklist. While not a diagnostic tool, it is a printable resource to share with your doctor to have an informed discussion about perimenopause.