When Does Menopause Start - Essential Guide - Stella
Your body
7 mins

What age does menopause start?

byDr. Lucy Wilkinson

There is no fixed age of menopause. Although it’s most common to have your final period in your fifties, menopause can actually happen at any time in your adult life. If you’re wondering whether you’ve started menopause and what to expect, read our expert guide for the facts.

What is menopause?

Menopause happens when your menstrual cycle slows down and eventually stops. This is caused by hormonal changes, including a dramatic decrease in the amount of oestrogen produced by your body. 

Erratic and decreasing oestrogen levels are responsible for common menopause symptoms like hot flushes, poor sleep and mood changes.

The medical definition of ‘menopause’ is your final period. If your doctor says that you went through menopause at 51, it means that you had your last menstrual period at this age. The symptoms caused by hormonal changes can span several years before and after this single point in time. This is called perimenopause.

Some choose to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at this time. It’s the most effective treatment available for menopause symptoms and works by replacing the oestrogen no longer produced by your body.

Learn more about which HRT is right for you.

What are the most common menopause symptoms?

Menopause can cause a whole range of symptoms, from itchy skin to mood swings. Some of the most common are:

  • Hot flushes. You may have sudden feelings of heat and sweat, especially on your face, neck and upper chest. These episodes usually last just a few minutes but can be distressing as they’re not always predictable or controllable
  • Night sweats. This is where you wake up drenched in sweat at night when normally you would sweat less than during the day. You might also wake up feeling hot or cold throughout the night
  • Insomnia. It’s common to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep once menopause begins – and night sweats don’t help! 
  • Mood swings. These can range from uncontrollable anger and rage to feeling low and tearful
  • Vaginal changes. It’s very common to experience dryness, itch, pain, uncomfortable sex, recurrent urine infections and needing to pee more often. This group of symptoms is collectively known as Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM), although you might also hear it called atrophic vaginitis or vaginal atrophy

These are just a few examples of the many different ways in which the hormonal changes of menopause can affect you. If you notice one or more of these, it could herald the start of menopause.

Want to learn more? Read about the 34 symptoms of menopause.

Start your free online menopause assessment to see if HRT is right for you

Perimenopause – symptoms before your periods stop

Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause and when you’ll experience the first symptoms of hormonal change, effectively the transition leading up to your final period.

During perimenopause, you might get irregular or unusual periods.These could be more or less frequent, or heavier or lighter than usual. You could also start to notice symptoms of menopause, even if they’re pretty mild at first. Many people opt to begin taking HRT during perimenopause.

On average, perimenopause lasts for five years, although this can be over a decade for some people and just a few months for others.  

Read more about the stages of menopause.

Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) – menopause under 40

Premature ovarian insufficiency is the medical term for menopause before the age of 40. It’s also known as premature ovarian failure.

This can happen for a variety of reasons. Early menopause is sometimes caused by cancer treatment or having surgery to remove your ovaries. Family history and your general health can also play a part while, for others, there will be no obvious cause.

One in every thousand women between the ages of 15 and 29 will go through POI. For those aged 30-39, the number rises to one in every hundred. 

Read Isabel’s story of the challenges of premature menopause.

Tell your doctor if you have any symptoms which you think could be related to menopause  , even if you’re under 40. If you do go through menopause at this age, HRT is an important part of your treatment plan as it helps to preserve your bone density and reduce your cardiovascular risk. Your doctor is likely to recommend taking HRT up until the average age of menopause, which is 51.

Although blood tests aren’t commonly used to diagnose menopause, if your doctor suspects you could be menopausal before the age of 40, they might suggest checking your FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels.

Read our essential guide to early and premature menopause.

Early menopause – menopause between 40-45

Early menopause occurs if you go through menopause before the age of 45. 

Just like with premature ovarian insufficiency, this can be caused by surgery or medical treatment. It can also be associated with other medical conditions or family history – but is sometimes unexplained.

Menopause – periods stopping after age 45

Menopause most commonly happens between the ages 45 and 55. The average age at menopause is 51 in the UK. This means that the average person has their last period at 51, but will likely experience menopause symptoms for a few years either side of this date. 

Those who avoided experiencing symptoms during their perimenopause will sometimes get them at this time, which can be an unwelcome surprise!

How long does menopause last?

The duration of menopause symptoms can really vary – it could be a few months for one person, but more like a decade for another.

It is impossible to predict how long your menopause symptoms will last. But if you’re struggling, you should speak to your doctor about your options or take Stella’s free online assessment. There are a wide range of hormonal and non-hormonal treatments and they will be able to guide you to the best choices for you.

Final word

It’s most common to go through menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, although it will happen earlier for some. If you experience menopause symptoms below the age of 45, it’s important to speak to your doctor as this could be early or premature menopause.

Whatever your age, see your doctor if you are struggling with menopause symptoms.

Find out more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.

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