The menopause is your last menstrual period. Periods stop when your ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone. Technically it lasts one day and marks the time when women can no longer get naturally pregnant. For most women, the last period is around the age of 51.
You can recognise when the menopause has occurred only a year later when you have had 12 months without a period. But it is also common not to know the exact date of your menopause because you may be on oral contraceptives or HRT, which can affect bleeding.
The time leading up to the menopause when symptoms occur is called the perimenopause.
When the media writes about ‘menopause’, for example describing the symptoms associated with it, they are often referring to perimenopause. Confusing, right?!
Perimenopause means 'around menopause,' and typically starts in a woman’s 40s. It is the time when signs and symptoms of falling oestrogen levels begin to manifest. For example, irregular periods or hot flushes.
Perimenopause lasts until 12 months after your final menstrual bleed. For over half of women, the perimenopause stage lasts for over 7 years. But this doesn't mean you have to endure through your symptoms for all that time, as there are treatments that can help.
The average age of menopause in the U.K. is 51, but symptoms can start years earlier during the perimenopause.
Early menopause refers to when a woman's periods stop before the age of 45. This can happen naturally, or as a side-effect of some types of treatments.
The NHS has more information on early menopause on it's website.
Menopause symptoms can occur due to a decrease in oestrogen that happens around the menopause. There are over 34 menopause symptoms, which most women have some combination of. Research suggests over 80% of women experience one symptom or another.
The most common symptoms are hot flushes, cold flashes, and night sweats (also known as vasomotor symptoms), sleep disturbances, irregular menstrual periods, including lighter or heavier periods, joint and muscle pain, and weight gain.
For more information on symptoms visit our symptoms page, or click through some of the posts below:
For half of women, menopause symptoms can last for 7 years. Symptoms tend to be most severe in the late peri-menopause, that is, close to the menopause itself (the date of your last menstrual period).
For more information on symptoms visit our symptoms page.
HRT stands for hormone replacement therapy. Different doctors and countries can use other names such as menopause hormone therapy (MHT), but they generally mean the same thing.
HRT works by replacing hormones that naturally decline as we age, hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone. Please note the Bia and the British Menopause Society do not advocate the use of ‘compounded HRTs.’ You can read more about that here.
There are some steps you can take to make the most of your GP visit. When you book, you can ask your local surgery to speak to a menopause specialist or a doctor with special interest in women's health.
In the weeks leading up to the appointment, take note of which symptoms are bothering you and how often they occur. It's also helpful for the doctor to know the date of your last menstrual period.
We have been asked a few times if a blood test that determines your level of ‘follicle stimulating hormone’ (FSH) is needed to diagnose menopause. The answer is that often it’s not actually necessary!
We know it’s not usual to get tips to avoid a blood test, but if you're over 45 with menopause symptoms (such as hot flushes and more irregular periods), your doctor can decide whether you are in peri-menopause from a thorough medical history - no needles required!
There are exceptions, as FSH tests are considered in women under 45. In those cases, two FSH blood tests will be taken so hormone levels can be compared at two points in time.
There’s another type of test that’s been in the media lately, for anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH). Despite what the papers are saying, it cannot say exactly when menopause will occur. The test can predict the likelihood of you going through menopause, within 1 to 3 years, but not an accurate timing.