What your body goes through around menopause
Menopause happens when the ovaries no longer release an egg each month and the menstrual cycle totally stops.
This event happens after a natural decline in reproductive hormones, usually around 45–55 years of age. The exact timing of menopause varies based on personal factors like genetics, previous pregnancies, physical activity, and body weight.
As you experience the changes of menopause, your monthly periods will eventually stop. According to the Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop (STRAW +10), a few years before a person undergoes menopause, the length of the menstrual cycle becomes more irregular, leading to cycles that can be 60 days or longer. This time is known as the menopause transition or premenopause.
Menopause is a one-time event that is marked by a person’s final menstrual period. It becomes clear that this menstrual period was the final one only after 12 months without periods. It also signals the end of “perimenopause,” a term that means the time around menopause. Perimenopause begins at the menopausal transition and ends 12 months after the final menstrual period.
The time after the final menstrual period is called postmenopause.
Menopause occurs in a few different ways. Here are some of the most common:
- Naturally around the age 45–58 years (About 5% of people have early menopause at ages 40–45)
- Because of surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy)
- In response to chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Due to primary ovarian insufficiency
One of the biggest changes of menopause is a decline in estrogen levels. This leads to certain symptoms, which people experience in a variety of ways.
Some of the physiological changes around menopause can involve the following:
- Weight gain – It’s normal to gain two to five pounds during the transition from premenopause to menopause. This happens due to the decline in estrogen levels.
- Hot flashes – Most people experience hot flashes, often with blushing and some sweating.
- Trouble sleeping – Hormonal fluctuations also make falling asleep difficult, resulting in insomnia.
- Mood swings – Hormonal changes can prompt moods that fluctuate between cheerfulness, sadness, and depression.
- Bone changes – Bone density can drop, increasing the risk of bone fractures.
- Sex drive changes – A drop in estrogen lowers the sex drive (libido).
- Memory issues – Menopause may affect memory, which can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Around the time of menopause, people also experience fatigue, depression, joint and muscle aches, headaches, a racing heart, vaginal dryness, vision changes, increased skin wrinkling, poor muscle strength, and bladder control issues.