Menopause can feel like a mysterious and confusing time. But with a little education and preparation, it doesn’t have to be! Here we’ll explore factors that can influence your menopausal experience, and how you can find support to navigate through this important phase of life.
You know you’ve officially hit menopause, by textbook terms, when you have no menstrual bleeding for one year. The reality is that menopause is so much more than that. It isn’t just like flipping a switch. Menopause more broadly is a gradual shift into a new hormonal state. This shift can bring a diverse set of changes and challenges for both your physical and emotional well-being.
There’s no definitive age at which you’ll enter or move through the phases of menopause, but most women tend to go through it in their 40s or 50s – reaching the end of menstruation on average at age 51, according to the North American Menopause Society.
Menopause is generally thought of as a process in three stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, mood changes, sleep difficulties, decreased libido, and vaginal dryness.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a crystal ball that would tell you exactly when you’d go through menopause and what you’d experience? Well, short of having a crystal ball, there may be some connections between genetics and lifestyle factors that can offer some clues.
When it comes to predicting menopausal age, multiple studies show genetics can offer us some insights. For about 50% of women, the age they will enter menopause will be based on their genetics. Look to your mother, grandmother, or sister’s experience for any patterns. If they went through menopause early or late, you may be more likely to as well.
Studies suggest diet and lifestyle may also play a role. Smoking cigarettes is associated with an earlier onset of menopause. Research shows that those who smoke cigarettes could experience menopause 1-2 years earlier than those who don’t smoke. While the exact cause is unknown, some believe that smoking affects the natural production of estrogen, which can contribute to early menopause. Women with a higher BMI may also experience menopause earlier.
Some evidence suggests women may experience menopause differently depending on their race or ethnicity. Research from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) found that women of color tend to enter menopause earlier than white women.
If there’s anything predictable about menopause, it’s that it’s unpredictable. Not every woman will experience menopause the same. Certain factors may influence when you’ll enter menopause, but unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to predict exactly when. While it would be nice to prepare for menopause in this way, we can still arm ourselves with information so we can better navigate through this big life transition when it comes.
If you’re struggling with bothersome symptoms of menopause, treatments like hormone replacement therapy may offer some relief. Hormone therapy releases the same steady state of hormones naturally found in our bodies, to help your body return to its natural balance.
Support can also be found in community. Online networks like the Red Hot Mamas offer a place to share your feelings, ask questions, and connect with other women navigating the change.
And as always, your Axia Women’s Health provider is here to help answer questions and support you as you enter this new chapter in your life! Many of our care centers have providers who specialize in the treatment of menopausal symptoms, and can help you explore treatment options tailored to your needs.