What age will you be when menopause takes place and how you can prepare?
When you first got your menstrual period, you probably thought: I'm going to have to deal with this for how long? Now that you're older and wiser, you know "the end" is doubtless in sight, so instead you're beginning to wonder exactly when — at what age — you can expect menopause to begin. And, as a corollary, you'd probably like to know whether there is anything you can do to be better prepared when it does occur.
In fact, you will definitely have some warning before you enter this new stage of your life. You will need to complete 12 consecutive months without a period before you can officially be in menopause, a point in a woman's reproductive life that marks the permanent end of menstruation and fertility. It's a big change to anticipate. And for some women approaching their late 40s to early 50s, nearing this transition can stir up fears and uncertainties about this new phase of their life. The good news, says the North American Menopause Society, is that most women who have crossed the "menopausal bridge" report they now feel more confident, empowered, involved, and energized than they did in their younger years.
At What Age Does Menopause Begin?
While the typical age of menopause in the United States is around 51, every woman has her own biological clock, and therefore menopause can begin at different ages for different women. In the past, scientists had little success in determining the rate at which a woman's biological clock was progressing. Recently, however, scientists have been studying ways to predict menopause using a substance called anti-Mullerian hormone, or AMH.
Tests that measure levels of AMH, which is secreted by the ovaries, are already in use to help doctors identify lower than normal fertility potential, and recent research shows they may indicate when women are likely to hit menopause, too. One study, from Iran, found that low AMH levels predicted early menopause in women as young as 20 — a full 15 to 18 years before her final period.
This is a potentially important and practical finding, since so many women want to know when menopause will begin, when it will end, and how disruptive this period will be, says Mary Fran Sowers, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. The ability to pinpoint their current reproductive status could be an empowering tool for women, Sowers predicts, and this promising new research suggests that doctors may soon be able to offer patients this type of information.
How Will You Know That You're in Menopause?
Symptoms of menopause can begin anytime between age 45 and 47, a time when the "menopause transition," or perimenopause phase, normally takes place, explains Felicia Mendelsohn, MD, a women's health scholar at Columbia University's Center for Menopause, Hormonal Disorders, and Women's Health in New York. Dr. Mendelsohn says perimenopause usually lasts from two to five years, with signs and symptoms that may include:
"It's very important that you're aware of these symptoms so that you can speak to your doctor about them and consider the fact that you could be in perimenopause," says Mendelsohn. "Sometimes women are not aware of [perimenopausal] symptoms and they attribute them to something else being wrong."
How to Prepare for Menopause
While there's really no exact way to prepare for — or prevent — menopause, Mendelsohn says there are things you can keep in mind beforehand:
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