Menopause is often described as a phase of life, which rather indicates that it's a short, set period. What society is collectively beginning to recognise and communicate about menopause however, is that this progression of life doesn’t always adhere to short time frames and set limits. The process can last as long as 10 to 20 years from perimenopause to post-menopause, and while some of the more acute consequences will subside as we get older, some (or their after effects) will be with us permanently.
That might sound overwhelming but don't fear - knowledge is power and you're entering the most powerful phase of your life. In this article we explore how long menopause lasts and how you know when it's over.
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When does menopause begin?
Knowing how long menopause lasts really means understanding and recognising the signs when it begins. We have been conditioned to think of menopause as starting when our periods stop. In reality, perimenopause can begin as long as 10 years before that point (although usually it's three to five years), and usually in your mid to late forties. When you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months or more, you're considered to be in menopause.
How long does menopause last?
Being in menopause is the most acute phase in hormonal change, where symptoms are likely to be their most potent. Some women find menopausal symptoms to be extremely mild; others find them to be quite disruptive - either way, 95% of women reach menopause by the age of 55. Hot flashes are amongst the most common menopausal symptoms, with 80% of women experiencing them.
Accounting for the duration of symptoms like hot flushes, a 2015 study noted that unwanted consequences lasted anywhere between 4.5 to nearly 12 years. The New York Times wrote:
"In one 2015 study of about 1,500 U.S. women who experienced frequent hot flashes or night sweats, these symptoms lasted for an average of 7.4 years in all, usually beginning several years before their final period and continuing for an average of 4.5 years afterward. Women who began experiencing hot flashes earlier in the menopausal transition — before they hit the milestone of 60 days without a period — had to put up with these symptoms for longer, a total of 11.8 years on average."
The article and associated research concluded that the average period in which women experience acute menopausal symptoms is seven to nine years. This tallies with our own research - although if you begin experiencing perimenopausal consequences early - around the age of 40, for example - and menopause continues to close to 60 then you can see how the timeframe can become extended.
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How do you know menopause has finished?
The hormonal fluctuations that cause unwanted menopausal consequences tend to subside by the time women reach 65 or 70. At that point you should find that the highly changeable symptoms - like hot flushes - have eased or gone away entirely. From a technical standpoint, doctors may be able to offer blood tests to check hormone levels to confirm you're post-menopause.
Now, the changes you have are the ongoing result of ageing, which is a combination of factors including that you are no longer producing certain hormones like oestrogen. For example, fine lines and wrinkles tend to develop, skin may be less plump as you're no longer producing much collagen, and you may find that hair is more dry. If you have experienced skin pigmentation as a result of hormonal changes, that will not reverse without treatment either.
There are positive sides to being post menopausal. For example, many women who have suffered conditions like fibroids and endometriosis find that symptoms improve, and of course you no longer have periods to contend with. Many women feel empowered as they enter a new life phase and explore new areas of interest and a personal sense of freedom. In many ways, it's a very exciting and liberating time.
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