Growing older is simply a fact of life. But while age often comes with gifts, like greater wisdom, it also poses new challenges for many women. We’re talking specifically about menopause — an area where support and information gaps still abound, despite the fact that half the global population will experience this transition. Menopause doesn’t need to be a mysterious villain that lurks along the outskirts of middle age. Knowing what’s going on with your body and what to expect throughout menopause can make it easier to prepare and adapt.
What is Early Menopause?
An area that surprises many is the average age women start experiencing symptoms. While menopause symptoms will likely begin in your late 40’s or early 50’s, every woman’s body is unique, and it’s not unheard of for symptoms to begin before age 45. Roughly 5% of women will go through “early menopause”, meaning between ages 40 and 45.1
Sometimes, specific factors can induce premature menopause, which is defined as menopause before the age of 40. For example, a hysterectomy with oophorectomy (removal of ovaries), radiation therapy, or certain autoimmune diseases could cause premature menopause.2
When Do Menopause Symptoms Start and End?
Menopause symptoms can last a few years, with most women making the full transition over an average of 7.4 years.3 But just like the age of onset, the menopausal transition can vary widely, with women experiencing symptoms for longer or shorter periods of time. Symptoms often become more severe in the years and months immediately before and after menopause — the moment in time when you’ve gone without a period for 12 consecutive months. During these phases, hormone fluctuations tend to be the most volatile.
Symptoms tend to lessen in frequency and severity in years after menopause. That said, certain symptoms, like vaginal dryness, can continue into late postmenopause.4
Signs You’re In Menopause
A surprisingly common question women ask is, “How will I know when I’m in menopause?” and we’re not referring to early menopause, as referenced earlier. This is hard to predict, as women enter menopause at a wide range of ages. However, the age when menopause begins can be hereditary, so be sure to talk with the older women in your family to get an idea of when you may start to experience symptoms.
Exactly which symptoms you’ll experience is a different story. While research has confirmed genetics play a role in determining a woman's age at menopause,5 additional studies are needed to determine if genes are a predictor of which actual symptoms a woman will experience. The broad variety of menopause symptoms makes predicting your experience even more complicated. Women are surprised to learn there are at least 34 symptoms associated with menopause — from the widely discussed, like hot flashes, to the little known, like dry eyes and skin.6
Additionally, symptoms of early and premature menopause can look similar to the ones experienced during traditional menopause. Irregular periods are the most telltale sign, and hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness are all common.
What Are the Worst Menopause Symptoms?
It’s difficult to label certain menopause symptoms as “worse” than others — every woman’s experience is unique, and the severity of even the most common symptoms can vary widely. That said, you’ll often hear women describe the most common menopause symptoms as being the worst: hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido and painful sex can feel extreme and even disrupt an individual’s quality of life.
Treatment for Menopause Symptoms
No matter the symptom, it’s important to seek treatment if your life is being negatively impacted. Talk with your healthcare provider about creating a plan to work with the symptoms as they begin. There are many simple and natural ways of dealing with the symptoms you experience during menopause. From eating a healthy diet to hormone-free supplements, you’ve got options when it comes to treatment.