This encompasses the years preceding the menopause which can begin in a woman’s 40’s or sometimes even earlier. It occurs as the store of eggs that a woman is born with declines. This in turn results in lower hormone levels being secreted by the follicles in the ovaries. As the hormones fluctuate, symptoms come and go and periods change in pattern. Common early symptoms include mood changes, anxiety, irritability, brain fog, lack of concentration and loss of self esteem. These often come much earlier than other more recognisable physical symptoms such as hot flushes or night sweats.
The average age for women to hit the menopause in the UK is 51. Menopause is a retrospective diagnosis, and can only be confirmed 12 months after a woman’s final period has occurred. At this stage, the ovaries have finally run out of eggs, resulting in a dramatic fall in all three important female hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Hormone receptors are located throughout the body; your brain, skin, bones, heart, musculoskeletal system, joints, urinary tract and genital area. Varying hormone levels can affect any or all of these parts of the body, therefore causing a wide range of different symptoms.
Early menopause is diagnosed if menopause occurs between the ages of 40 and 45.
One percent of women are diagnosed with menopause under the age of 40. This is termed premature ovarian insufficiency or ‘POI’. 1 in 1000 experience it under 30.
Menopause is usually a natural event, but can also be surgically induced, following removal of the ovaries, or secondary to medical treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
This is the time after a woman’s periods have ceased for 12 consecutive months. This stage continues for the rest of a woman’s life. With western life expectancies, many women will be post menopausal for a third of their lives.
Whilst many women may continue to experience menopausal symptoms for 4 or 5 years after menopause, the long term implications of hormone deficiency particularly on heart, bone and brain health will continue for the rest of their lives.