Menopause – it’s something we all know will happen, but the question of when is always one that causes confusion.
You wake unexpectedly one night boiling hot, suddenly have a bout of tip-of-the-tongue forgetfulness, or maybe your period starts early one month but you don’t think anything of it.
Most of us are so focused on menopause happening in our fifties that subtle first signs in our 40s often go unnoticed.
Successfully navigating the next stage of your life, though, means it’s important to understand what’s happening so you can minimise and manage troublesome symptoms, like with our list of the best menopause foods.
Not everyone will experience every symptom, and not every therapy works for everyone. So try the simplest methods first for a few weeks. If you’re not getting results, move on to the next.
Perimenopause begins several years before menopause, when your ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen, causing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which is the hormone responsible for growing and developing eggs, to rise and menstrual cycles to shorten.
There’s a rollercoaster period when oestrogen and FSH levels fluctuate wildly, which is why testing levels of FSH can’t accurately predict where you are in menopause. Eventually, you begin to miss periods.
Finally, oestrogen levels drop, FSH levels remain high, and ovulation and finally your periods stop. When you’ve gone 12 months without a period, perimenopause ends and you have reached menopause.
When will I go through menopause?
The only predictor is the age your mother began menopause, which tends to be similar, but the average age is 52. Smoking is the only other factor known to make a difference and brings on menopause one to two years earlier.
Pregnancies, the Pill, age of first period and breastfeeding don’t affect the age of menopause. Usually, periods become increasingly erratic. Your cycle may shorten by a day or two and then by several days, and it may go from light to super-heavy.
When you don’t ovulate, the lining of the uterus, which sheds during a period, tends to overgrow, causing the excessive blood.
Eventually, you’ll have fewer and fewer periods, though they can still be extremely heavy which, coupled with an erratic cycle, can be really inconvenient.
Once you get to the stage of going three months without a period, you’re likely to stop having periods altogether within a year. All symptoms are usually at their worst one to two years both before and after menopause, because the decline in oestrogen accelerates the closer you are to menopause.