What is the menopause?

The menopause or ‘the change’ is an important stage in a woman’s life when she undergoes a series of biological changes which indicates the end of her reproductive status.

These changes cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms which vary in degree from one woman to the next.

It is a transition stage in which a woman moves from reproductive to non-reproductive status and occurs over a period of years.

In other words, you no longer have periods and are at the end of your reproductive years.

It is a natural part of life and is not a disease or an illness. It can be challenging but is something which nearly all women will experience as part of growing older.

Menopause duration

Menopause usually starts in middle age –around the age of 51 –and lasts for several years. This ranges from 2 to 3 years through to 5 years although some women may experience the symptoms of menopause for longer than this.

What is important is that menopause is not just a single process but rather a series of stages that a woman goes through. It starts with a drop in the number of eggs produced by the ovaries and a fall in oestrogen levels.

This affects menstruation in that periods become lighter and irregular.

Menopause ends with the last menstrual period. The time after that until the end of the woman’s life is known as ‘postmenopausal’.

Menopause stages

These stages are discussed individually within this guide and are as follows:

Many people assume that the menopause is a single process but it is a gradual decline in fertility and a reduction of hormone levels which ends with the last menstrual period.

These stages take place within a period of years and are also known as the ‘climacteric’.

One way of looking at this is as a retrospective stage. Technically, the menopause is the period of time in which the woman undergoes a series of physical and emotional changes up until her last menstrual period.

The menopause is the date of your last menstrual period and includes all the biological changes in the years leading up until that date.

When a year has passed since the date of your last menstrual period then you are said to have gone through the menopause.

Confusing isn’t it? You may find it easier to think of the menopause as a part of your life in which you undergo biological changes as your fertility decreases. These changes happen over several years and in a series of ‘sub-stages’, for example the perimenopause.

Fear and loathing of menopause

The menopause is a normal part of the ageing process, but this does not mean it is easy to deal with.

Many women see this as a time when not only does their fertility come to an end but also their sexual desirability as well. They feel less attractive, especially to their partner and ‘less feminine’than before.

They are apprehensive about this stage and assume that life will go downhill from now on. But menopause needn’t be like that.

It can be a positive stage in life but this does depend upon how you handle it. Some women cope better than others but there is treatment available for those women who find the process stressful and hard to handle.

Plus there are support groups, advice centres and other useful resources which can help during this time.

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