Menopause, also known as ‘the change of life’, marks the end of the monthly cycle of menstruation in a woman’s life. It is a natural occurrence and marks the end of the reproductive years, just as the first menstrual period during puberty marked the start. You will know that the menopause has taken place if you have not had any bleeding for 12 months.
Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, the average being around 51. Menopause before the age of 40 is called ‘premature menopause’ and before the age of 45 it is called ‘early menopause’.
Hormone levels fluctuate as menopause approaches
As you approach menopause, the production of ‘female’ hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) by the ovaries starts to slow down. Hormone levels tend to fluctuate and you may notice changes in your menstrual cycle:
- Cycles may become longer, shorter or totally irregular
- Bleeding may become lighter
- Bleeding may become unpredictable and heavy (seek advice from your doctor).
Eventually your hormone levels will fall to a point where menstruation (periods) will cease altogether and the menopause is reached.
Although fertility after the age of 45 is low, you still need to use contraception to prevent pregnancy (even if only barrier contraception such as male condoms) until you have had one year without a natural period if you’re over 50 years old, or two years without a natural period if you’re under 50