Am I going through menopause?
The transition to menopause lasts an average of seven years. So, how do you know if you’re going through menopause?
Menopause is the one-year mark after your last period. It can happen naturally or because of surgical or medical treatments. Perimenopause is the transitional stage in the lead-up to your final period and when most women start to experience symptoms.
Your doctor can usually confirm menopause if you have menopausal symptoms, are over 45, and it’s been more than 12 consecutive months since your last period. After this, you will be in your postmenopausal stage of life – where you may still experience some of the common menopausal symptoms.
So, what do you do if you suspect you have started going through your transition to menopause? And how do you know whether your symptoms are because of menopause or if something else is going on? We check off some facts and symptoms of menopause to help you answer the question – am I going through menopause?
In this blog, we cover:
- What is the average age to reach menopause?
- The three stages of menopause?
- Symptoms of menopause and how to manage them
- Testing for menopause in the UK
- Menopause FAQs and support
What is the average age to reach menopause?
On average, menopause happens around age 51, but it will likely be between 45 and 55. Of course, you could also be much younger or older than these ranges – so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Perimenopause usually starts in your forties (around age 45). Often, this is when periods begin to change, and most women start to experience symptoms. This is mostly caused by changing levels of hormones produced by the ovaries.
The age at which you go through menopause depends on several factors. For example, researchers have found that, on average, smokers go through menopause one to two years earlier than people who don’t smoke .
Factors that can affect the age of menopause :
- The age you had your first menstrual period
- When your mum reached menopause
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Number of pregnancies
- Your lifestyle (including whether you smoke)
- Your BMI (body mass index)
How common is early menopause?
Early menopause is when periods stop before the age of 45 and it happens in around one in 20 women. Sometimes, treatment or surgery for a health condition may lead to early menopause, for example, some breast cancer treatments or if your ovaries are surgically removed.
If you are under 45 and you think you are experiencing symptoms of menopause, a blood test can help determine whether early menopause is likely. There are also support groups, like Daisy Network, that specialise in helping women with premature ovarian failure (when the ovaries stop working before the age of 40).
What are the three stages of menopause?
The three stages of menopause are perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
- Perimenopause means around menopause - and it is the beginning of your transition. Your body will start to make less of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and you will probably notice changes to your cycle pattern or mood.
- Menopause means stopping menstruation and is the end of your menstrual cycle. Reaching menopause means that you will no longer be able to get pregnant naturally.
- Postmenopause is your life after menopause. Some women experience symptoms into their postmenopause years even though they will no longer have periods.
How long does menopause last?
It takes an average of seven years to reach menopause once symptoms start. However, it is also possible for this to be much quicker or for it to take as many as 14 years .
What are the symptoms of menopause?
The symptoms that come with menopause look and feel different for everyone. Around 80% of women experience some form of menopause-related symptoms  and these can have a big impact on mental and physical well-being, social and home life, and work.
Signs and symptoms of menopause:
Changes to your menstrual cycle – usually the first signs of perimenopause are changes to your menstrual cycle. You may no longer be able to predict when your next period will happen as your pattern becomes irregular. You may also experience heavier periods.
Hot flushes and night sweats – hot flushes last an average of two to four minutes and commonly affect the face, neck, and chest. You may experience a hot flush alongside excessive sweating.
Changes to mental health - you may experience changes to your mental health, from low mood to anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.
Other signs and symptoms of menopause include:
- Reduced sex drive (low libido)
- Vaginal dryness and pain
- Weight gain
- Hair and skin changes
- Changes to memory and concentration
This isn’t an extensive list of symptoms. There are more than 34 well-recognised symptoms of menopause, including uncommon symptoms, such as tingling sensations in the skin.
In our 2023 Menopause Survey, we found the top symptoms our respondents experienced were brain fog, tiredness or low energy, joint stiffness, difficulty sleeping, and hot flushes.
If you’re unsure, head over to My Menopause Centre’s symptom checker, which gives an overview of 40 menopausal symptoms and how many women experience and treat them.
How to manage menopause symptoms
Lifestyle changes, like practising yoga or meditation, exercising regularly, and eating a Mediterranean diet, can all be massively impactful and a natural way of helping to manage symptoms and protect you from an increased risk of certain diseases, like heart disease.
In our 2023 Menopause Survey, most women told us that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was one of the most helpful treatments, yet around 15% considered it useless or unhelpful, which tells us that what works for one person may not work for someone else and it’s important to take a holistic approach when it comes to managing symptoms.
You can find out more about the different types of HRT, as well as the benefits and risks of this treatment, in our blog, HRT – is it for me?
Six natural ways to manage menopause symptoms
Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
During menopause, light to moderate exercises can be a powerful tool to improve symptoms like low mood and sleep disturbances, while weight-bearing movement is good for strengthening your bones and can help reduce the risk of menopause-related health complications like osteoporosis.
You don’t need to exercise for 30 minutes in one go – you can spread it throughout the day. Take a short walk, do some stretches while you wait for the kettle to boil or do a few static body-weight exercises while brushing your teeth (like squats).
Practice yoga or meditation
Yoga can support both the emotional and physical symptoms of menopause. Many restorative yoga postures focus on relaxing the nervous system, which can help relax your mind and body.
Prioritise your nutrition for healthy bones
A reduction in oestrogen during menopause increases the rate of calcium loss from bones, which can lead to weaker bones that are more prone to fracture. Getting enough calcium in your diet can protect against this loss. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, tofu, fortified food products, dairy alternatives, and green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli and kale).
You should be able to get all the calcium you need from your diet, but some people may need additional calcium. Speak to your GP before taking new supplements, as too much supplemental calcium may be harmful.
Vitamin D is also essential to building and maintaining strong bones (as well as improving some symptoms of menopause). We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, so you may need to take a 10ug supplement during winter in the UK. If you have darker skin, spend most of your time indoors, or cover your skin, you could benefit from taking a 10ug supplement all year round.
Eat a Mediterranean diet for heart health
Menopause and post-menopause can increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke . Eating heart-healthy foods can reduce your risk. These include high-fibre and whole-grain foods (such as beans, pulses, and brown rice), fruit and vegetables, and oily fish. Limit your saturated fat intake and choose healthier fats such as olive and rapeseed oil. The Mediterranean diet is cardioprotective, meaning it can help reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Reach a healthy weight
During menopause, there is a change in body composition. Often, muscle mass decreases and body fat increases. But, regular exercise, a healthy diet with plenty of protein, and portion control can help minimise these changes. Without being aware of this, it is easy for excess body fat to creep up.
Being overweight is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This risk increases with age and in women who have late menopause (after age 55). Fat cells secrete the hormone oestrogen, which can encourage the growth of some breast cancers . Be mindful of your portion size, and try not to eat energy-dense foods regularly (foods high in fat and sugar). Combining healthy eating with regular exercise can help keep your weight in check.
Try talking therapies
If you’re experiencing low mood and anxiety, you might find talking therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), helpful. You can either discuss these options with your GP or self-refer online. You may also be able to access a service through your employer if you have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
*Based on 265 perimenopausal/postmenopausal women in our September 2023 Medichecks survey
Is there a blood test for menopause in the UK
A Menopause Blood Test that measures your hormones may be useful if you are experiencing symptoms of menopause and would like to rule out other conditions, like a thyroid disorder, which share similar symptoms.
Hormones a menopause blood test often checks:
- FSH – your follicle-stimulating hormone rises to stimulate egg production, so levels of FSH can indicate whether you are ovulating.
- LH – your luteinising hormone governs your menstrual cycle. If it is higher than average, this can also indicate you are going through menopause.
- Oestradiol – this female steroid hormone is produced in the ovaries and will fall as you get closer to menopause.
- TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) – a thyroid condition can cause similar symptoms to those of menopause.
If you are aged over 45, are otherwise healthy, and are not using hormonal contraception, you’ll likely be diagnosed with perimenopause or menopause based on your symptoms alone, without the need for a blood test
Situations where FSH testing is advised in women:
- over 45 with atypical symptoms
- aged 40–45 with menopausal symptoms
- under 40 suspected of premature ovarian insufficiency (POI)
- over 50 using progestogen-only contraception
The NHS doesn’t currently offer routine menopause checks as part of its over-40s health check (though there are calls for this to change). And whether you fall within these guidelines or not, if you feel like you need support then it’s important that you get it.
Menopause FAQs and support
Menopause and thyroid – how are they linked?
Women are ten times more likely to have a thyroid condition than men. Often, symptoms of thyroid disease can be similar to those of menopause. You can read more on this in our blog, thyroid vs menopause - how to spot the difference.
Can I get pregnant during menopause?
In the lead-up to menopause, even though you are less fertile, it is still possible for you to get pregnant. It is a common misconception that irregular periods and hot flushes mean you can forgo contraception.
Once you have reached menopause, you can no longer get pregnant naturally. So, unless you’re trying for a baby, you should consider continuing your contraception until you have stopped having periods for a year or more. You can read more about age and fertility in our blog.
Why should we talk more about menopause?
Menopause is a natural process that every woman goes through. Being able to talk openly about symptoms, having an understanding workplace, and getting support are all essential factors in coping with the physical and mental changes that accompany menopause. Read our list of 100 direct, practical tips that address the challenges of menopause head-on from women who've experienced it themselves
Menopause support organisations:
- My Menopause Centre – supports women through their menopause transition with evidence-based information, advice, and personalised care.
- The Menopause Charity – their mission is to help people understand the mental and physical changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause and supply the tools and treatments needed to manage those.
- The NHS – a GP, nurse, or pharmacist can give advice and help with symptoms of menopause or perimenopause.
- Women’s Health Concern – WHC provides confidential, independent service to advise, inform, and reassure women about their gynaecological, sexual, and post-reproductive health.
- Queer menopause – offers support and information for people who identify as LGBT+.
- Fleming, L., Levis, S., LeBlanc, W., Dietz, N., Arheart, K., Wilkinson, J., Clark, J., Serdar, B., Davila, E. and Lee, D., 2008. Earlier age at menopause, work, and tobacco smoke exposure. Menopause, 15(6), pp.1103-1108.
- Ceylan B, Özerdoğan N. Factors affecting age of onset of menopause and determination of quality of life in menopause. Turk J Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Mar;12(1):43-49. doi: 10.4274/tjod.79836. Epub 2015 Mar 15. PMID: 28913040; PMCID: PMC5558404
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- Bansal, R. and Aggarwal, N. (2019) Menopausal hot flashes: A concise review, Journal of mid-life health. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6459071/#:~:text=More%20than%2080%25%20of%20women,especially%20when%20severe%20and%20frequent (Accessed: 20 November 2023).
- Bda (2023) Menopause and Diet, Home. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/menopause-diet.html (Accessed: 20 November 2023).
- Risk factors for breast cancer (2023) Cancer Research UK. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/risks-causes/risk-factors (Accessed: 20 November 2023).