What is Menopause?

By Christina Hanna, MPH, CHES • Published 6/5/2023

Medically Reviewed by MD, OB-GYN

four people talking about what is menopause while walking on a beach

Simply put — menopause is the point in time after you’ve gone 12 months without a period, including spotting. While it’s used on this site (and most other places it’s talked about) as a phase of life, menopause is technically just a single point in time. The entire time when hormonal changes are occurring is called the menopausal transition — but that’s a mouthful, so I think everyone has just shortened it to “menopause”.

Why did my period stop?

Your periods stop because of a natural decrease in reproductive hormones, specifically the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The change in hormone levels is what causes many of the symptoms associated with menopause. As the hormone levels begin to stabilize and estrogen levels stay consistently low, many symptoms will decrease, and many will disappear altogether.

Why do we care about levels of hormones changing? 

The declines in estrogen and progesterone can affect so many parts of our bodies. Not only do they affect the menstrual cycle, but can also affect the reproductive tract, urinary tract, heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucus membranes, pelvic muscles, and brain.

When does menopause start?

You may be approaching menopause (a time called perimenopause) if you’ve noticed your periods are not predictable — they may become shorter, longer, heavier, or lighter. And the spacing between periods may also be unpredictable, eventually with longer spans of time between periods, before they stop altogether.

The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51, and for most, menopause often happens between the ages of 45 and 55. Symptoms can begin before menopause, during a time called perimenopause, including missed periods, hormonal changes, and symptoms such as hot flashes. This whole stage is called the menopausal transition and the symptoms related to hormonal change can last up to 7-14 years.

three people smiling while chatting about what is menopause

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Each of us is going to experience the hormonal changes associated with menopause differently, just like each of us may have had slightly different experiences with pregnancy, periods, or puberty. But the thing we all share is that our hormone levels are changing and that can result in some symptoms. Our hormones, especially estrogen, play a role in many functions of our body. When the levels of estrogen start to drop, those parts of the body no longer receive the same amount of estrogen they used to, and they begin to function differently — which are the symptoms we experience.

This is also a time in our lives when we may be going through other life transitions: caring for aging relatives, supporting children as they age, or making moves in our careers.

Some people may feel relieved, and others may dread these changes and symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms related to the hormonal changes include:

The good news is that there are things you can do to manage most of these menopause symptoms and we’re here to help you figure that out.

Last Updated 2/15/2024



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