What is menopause?
The word ‘menopause’ comes from ‘meno’, meaning your menstrual cycle, and ‘pause’, meaning to stop. The medical definition of menopause is when you have not had your monthly period for at least 12 months.
However, menopause is commonly used as a catch-all term to encompass perimenopause and the symptoms that come from the changes in hormone levels, whether this comes naturally or through illness or treatment.
“Did you know? Symptoms can start a good 10 years before your last period. If you think your hormones are changing then they are probably changing. Remember, you know your own body best.” – Dr Jane Davis
Key menopause facts
- The average age of a person going through a natural menopause is 51-years-old, but it can happen at any time.
- If you’re younger than 45, it is called an early menopause.
- Before the age of 40, it is known as a premature menopause, or Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI).
- By the age of 54, 80% of women will have stopped having periods.
- Symptoms +
Symptoms of the menopause are the same as those of the perimenopause +. There are around 35 symptoms, with some that are more commonly experienced. However, not all changes in your body and wellbeing at this time may be because of your menopause. As such, it’s important to consider your wider health and seek medical advice.
Menopause symptom facts
- The average time a person will experience menopausal symptoms is 7 years.
- 25% will have no menopause symptoms at all.
- 75% will have some menopausal symptoms and for 25% of these, symptoms are more severe and are negatively affecting their daily life.
The menopause is a normal event in a woman’s life, but women who have chemotherapy, radiotherapy to the pelvic area, surgery for endometriosis, a hysterectomy or their ovaries removed may have an early menopause.
If you are under 45, a blood test is usually used to diagnose the menopause. It measures the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which, if raised, signals you are menopausal. Some women may also have a bone density test (DEXA scan) to determine the strength of their bones.
“Did you know? If your periods have stopped under the age of 40, some form of hormone replacement until at least the natural age of menopause is recommended. Unless you have been told that there is a specific reason that you are unable to do so, the health benefits outweigh the risks.” – Dr Jane Davis
Those who experience an early or premature menopause are usually prescribed HRT + until approximately the average age of the menopause, which helps to control symptoms and protects your bones.
Surgical menopause occurs following an operation to remove your ovaries. A hysterectomy (surgical removal of the womb) may or may not be performed at the same time, but it is the removal of the ovaries that makes you instantly menopausal.
The procedure might be performed for a number of reasons:
- As part of cancer or endometriosis treatment.
- In order to reduce the risk of developing cancer (in those who carry the BRCA gene mutations, for example).
- As a last resort in women who suffer with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Surgical menopause differs from natural menopause as oestrogen production (oestrogen being previously produced by the ovaries) is suddenly withdrawn. This means that symptoms of surgical menopause are sudden and can be more extreme than in natural menopause, especially in younger women.
For more information, read our factsheet on surgical menopause +