What is Menopause?

happy middle aged woman talking outdoors in sunlight

Menopause occurs when a woman’s period stops permanently (as signaled by 12 months in a row without a period). This typically occurs between ages 45 and 55.

Symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes and changes in mood often begin in the years leading up to menopause, a time called perimenopause.

Some women may experience early menopause, which occurs when periods stop before age 40. Women who undergo early menopause naturally may face a higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

Menopause can also be triggered by surgical removal of the ovaries. A woman’s age at menopause can be influenced by factors such as length of menstrual cycle, poor cardiovascular risk profile during reproductive years and socioeconomic factors. Race and ethnicity also are relevant, with many Hispanic and Black women experiencing menopause at younger ages.

Common Symptoms of Menopause

Menopause does not happen all at once, so women may experience symptoms and irregular periods over several years, during perimenopause.

Symptoms vary by woman, but can include:

  • Hot flashes (or flushes)
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Irregular periods
  • Problems sleeping
  • Becoming forgetful or having trouble focusing
  • Urinary problems
  • Mood changes
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Changing feelings about sex

Many women do not need treatment for their symptoms, but if they bother you, talk to your health care team.

Some of the common symptoms felt with menopause have a correlation with cardiovascular disease. Learn more about cardiovascular disease risk factors.

How Do You Know When Menopause Starts and Ends?

It's often just called menopause, but this phase of life actually has three stages: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.

  1. Perimenopause means “around menopause.” This stage can start years before a woman’s final menstrual period. It begins when a woman experiences irregularity with her menstrual cycle or other symptoms and ends at menopause.

    Perimenopause includes the most symptomatic years and is a key time for a woman to care for her heart health and reduce her risk factors.

  2. Menopause – Menopause is defined as a woman’s final menstrual period and confirmed after 12 consecutive months without a period.

  3. Postmenopause – This stage describes the years after menopause. Because of trends in overall life expectancy, many women will spend up to 40% of their lives postmenopausal.

    It can be hard to know exactly when the menopausal transition will begin and end. Women should talk to their health care team about changes in their bodies or questions they have about menopause.

Menopause and Birth Control

Women who do not want to become pregnant should continue to use birth control for at least 12 months have passed since their last period.

How Menopause Impacts Your Health

After menopause, a woman’s body produces less estrogen and progesterone. These changes can increase a woman’s risk for conditions including osteoporosis, oral health problems and cardiovascular disease.

During menopause women experience changes in their bodies, including:

  • LDL cholesterol tends to increase
  • HDL cholesterol tends to decrease or stay the same
  • Triglycerides, certain types of fats in the blood, increase
  • Muscle mass typically declines and weight may increase