What is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural biological process, which is also referred to as 'the change of life' as it marks the end of a woman's reproductive life. A women’s body undergoes many changes during this phase that no longer allow her to get pregnant as her periods (menstruation) eventually stop. It is an unavoidable change that normally occurs in women during the ages of 45 – 55 years.
Menopause doesn’t happen suddenly; mostly it starts with the menstrual cycle getting irregular. Menopause symptoms can begin gradually over two to six years before the last menstrual period. Every woman experiences menopause differently, with different impressions and feelings. Menopause is not confirmed until a woman has not had a period continuously for 12 months.
It’s the absence of any menstruation for one complete year
Age and Menopause
The average natural menopause age is in late 40s or early 50s.
There are many factors that influence the age when menopause starts. These include:
Why Does Menopause Happen?
Menopause happens because the ovaries stop releasing eggs. Since, ovaries also produce hormones; any change in the ovaries affects the balance of hormones in the body. This can cause a variety of symptoms, and it can take the body a while to adjust to the changing hormones, i.e. estrogen and progesterone. This process can take up to four to six years on average in women. Eventually, hormone levels fall to a level where menstruation stops altogether and menopause is reached.
Figure: An overview of the female reproductive system
During the few years prior to menopause, hormone levels increasingly swing up and down and often, you may notice changes in your menstrual cycle. For example:
- Cycles may become longer, shorter, or totally irregular;
- Bleeding may become lighter; or
- Bleeding may become unpredictable and heavy. (Women with unpredictable or heavy bleeding should seek advice from their health care practitioner as soon as possible).
Although fertility after the age of 45 years is low, you still need to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. A woman needs to continue using contraception for the next 12 consecutive months after her last natural period.