How long does menopause last? This is one of the most frequently asked questions about this tricky time of life. Dr Lucy Wilkinson, Stella’s clinical advisor, explains what you can expect at the different stages of menopause, and how to tell when it’s over.
What is menopause?
Menopause happens when your body’s menstrual cycle gradually slows down and stops. This is caused by dramatic hormonal shifts including a decrease in the amount of oestrogen produced.
You may find this brings about a number of typical menopause symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, poor sleep and many more! It’s also normal for periods to become irregular and heavier before finally stopping.
The medical definition of menopause is a single point in time, 12 months after your last period. For example, if you had your last period at 50, your age at menopause would be 51.
But many of us use ‘menopause’ to describe the period of time (often years) during which you experience the symptoms of those hormonal changes leading up to that point. In fact, there are several different stages.
What are the different stages of menopause?
It’s useful to be able to describe where you are on your menopause journey. The stages of menopause are:
Premenopause. This means that the hormonal changes of menopause have not yet started. Most women will have regular periods during this time.
Perimenopause. Perimenopause (literally meaning ‘around the menopause’) can last for years. This is the time during which hormonal changes begin and most women notice at least some symptoms. Perimenopause ends when your periods stop and you reach menopause itself.
Menopause. You’ve reached menopause when it’s been 12 months since your last period. The trouble is, it may be difficult to tell for some people, especially if you don’t have regular periods or take medication which means you don’t bleed. Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you have reached menopause. This will sometimes require further investigation (via blood tests).
Postmenopause. Once you’ve passed menopause, you are postmenopausal. While this means that your periods have stopped, some of your menopause symptoms could continue for several years before gradually easing.
How long does menopause last?
Many of us will find the first signs of menopause quite subtle initially, so it’s sometimes difficult to put a clear start date on the process.
Likewise, symptoms can gradually ease before disappearing altogether once you’ve passed menopause. Unless you decide to throw yourself a ‘Goodbye Menopause’ party, there is no clear end point either!
It’s common for the most pronounced symptoms of menopause – hot flushes and night sweats – to last for up to five years.
Experiences of menopause vary widely. Some will have symptoms for a much shorter period of time, while others will find that they persist for longer. For example, 42% of 60-65 year olds still report hot flushes and night sweats. Fortunately, over 90% describe them as ‘mild’.
If you go through menopause due to medical treatment (including any surgery which involves removal of the ovaries), your symptoms are likely to be over more quickly. This is due to the sudden withdrawal of oestrogen.
Other changes associated with menopause are lifelong. Changes known as the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) are permanent due to the ongoing low levels of oestrogen. Similarly, changes to skin and hair are long-term.
Thankfully, treatments are available to help. HRT is the most effective proven treatment for menopause symptoms, and is widely available. If you would like to find out more about your treatment options, speak to your own doctor or take Stella’s free online assessment.
When can I start HRT?
You can start taking HRT at any point in your menopause journey, as long as the benefits outweigh the risks. If HRT isn’t suitable, there are plenty of other treatment options including non-hormonal medications and lifestyle changes. Your doctor can advise you on these based on your own personal symptoms and situation.
Learn more about the different types of HRT.
Start your free online menopause assessment to see if HRT is right for you
Menopause is different for everyone. While it’s common for the most troublesome symptoms to last for up to about five years, some women will find that their symptoms last for a decade or more.
If you find your symptoms troublesome, there are plenty of treatment options available. Speak to your own doctor or take Stella’s assessment to find out what your options are.