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Overview of menopause

Menopause is a natural process that happens in all women. It happens when your ovaries stop releasing eggs. This means your levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone change. The lining of your womb (uterus) stays thin and eventually, your periods stop.

This can happen suddenly, or over several years as your periods become more irregular and then stop completely.

Menopause is defined as not having a period for:

Menopause usually happens when you're around 50 years old.

Early menopause happens between the ages of 40 and 45.

Premature menopause starts before age 40. It's also referred to as premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency.

Artificial menopause happens when your ovaries have been surgically removed or stop working because of cancer treatment.

Perimenopause is the time when your periods become irregular before they finally stop. This usually lasts between four and eight years.

Postmenopause starts from one year after your last period.

Important

Heavy periods, bleeding between periods, and bleeding after sex are not part of menopause and are always a reason to see your GP.

You should also see your GP if:

Symptoms of menopause

Sometimes you'll experience physical and emotional symptoms during perimenopause and menopause. These are caused by the falling level of estrogen in your body. Symptoms vary, with some women having no symptoms at all.

Common symptoms include:

Some women don't have symptoms for long, while for others they can last several years.

Menopause can also increase your likelihood of getting osteoporosis.

Diagnosing menopause

Your symptoms and the changes in your menstruation are usually all that's needed to diagnose menopause. However, you may need some blood tests to check your hormone levels if you are younger than 40 and have menopause symptoms.

Contraception and menopause

If you are under 50 you still need to use contraception for two years after your last period. If you are over 50 you still need to use contraception for one year after your last period. Menopause hormonal therapy (previously called hormone replacement therapy or HRT) is not a contraceptive.

If you're over 55 you don't need to use any contraception, whether you still have periods or not.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2021.

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Page reference: 47490

Review key: HIMNP-12236