Menopause is full of unknowns – such as when the onset might begin and what symptoms to expect. And when it’s happening in the moment, you aren’t sure if you’re in menopause until you’re really in it.
Many people wonder how long menopause lasts, and while there are averages – it is different for every person.
One of the ways to combat the anxiety around menopause is to understand what might happen to you. To unravel some of the mystery behind menopause, we spoke to the experts: Dr. Jen Gunter, a San Francisco Bay Area-based board-certified OBGYN and author of “The Menopause Manifesto,” Dr. Bryan Jick, MD, FACOG, NCMP, a board-certified OBGYN affiliated with Huntington Hospital in Cedars Sinai, and Dr. Elaine Waetjen, a board-certified OBGYN and Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UC Davis Health.
What are usually the first signs of menopause?
Generally, the first sign that you may be entering menopause is irregular periods. You may also start experiencing some of the symptoms commonly associated with menopause like hot flashes and night sweats – but there are over 150 symptoms that are associated with menopause.
What are the 3 stages of menopause?
Gunter says from a medical perspective, there are three phases of menopause:
The menopause transition or pre-menopause. This is the time leading up to your last period when your levels of estrogen begin to drop and symptoms typically begin. These symptoms can include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, depression, and more.
Menopause, which is defined as one year after your last period. You can also experience symptoms of the menopause transition in this phase. Perimenopause is another term that may be used – it refers to the menopause transition and the first year after your last period.
Post-menopause, all of the time in your life after you have experienced menopause.
Gunter says that since you don’t know what day is going to be one year after your last period, this whole sequence is usually generally referred to as “menopause.” She likes to call it “the menopause continuum.”
How long does menopause last?
It depends on the person. If you aren’t having any symptoms, it may feel like no time at all – but some people suffer with symptoms for years.
Menopause treatments, explained
So what do the experts want you to know about menopause? All three physicians responded to this question in similar ways: that estrogen or menopausal hormone therapy is a safe and effective option, but it’s not right for everyone. Still, there are many things you can do to improve your symptoms. It depends on the person and really requires the guidance of a physician.
Menopausal hormone therapy:Why some doctors shy away from hormone therapy for menopause – and what to know about risks
Waetjen explains, “Most often, I hear that menopause is the cause of all symptoms around the time of perimenopause and that hormone therapy is the answer. It is far more complex than that. Menopause is a consequence of aging, and aging itself or changes in life circumstances that occur in midlife (children leaving home, parents aging, higher intensity jobs) and the associated stress can contribute to symptoms such as sleep disturbances, mood and weight gain in this time frame. Additionally, just because a symptom may have some relationship to the hormonal changes of menopause does not mean there is a direct relationship to estrogen and thus is treatable/prevented by taking estrogen.”
Another common theme: watch out for misinformation, particularly when it comes to supplements. Jick says when it comes to herbal supplements that promise to cure all symptoms, “there’s no data to show that they work” so try to avoid getting sucked in.
The experts agree the best thing you can do is reach out to your doctor about your most bothersome symptoms so they can do a proper evaluation and recommend evidence-based treatments.