Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Every woman has their own timeline for these midlife changes.
It may seem like menopause is the big event of midlife that every woman reaches at a particular age, but it’s actually a brief moment in the three-phase experience that starts at a different time for each of us.
“There isn’t really a ‘normal’ for the age. Instead, there’s an age range when women start the transition to menopause, so it’s good to keep in mind what some statistical averages show,” says Melynda Barnes, M.D., Clinical Director at Rory. “Talking to a doctor will help you figure out what’s normal for you and the changes you’re experiencing.”
When does perimenopause start?
The first phase, perimenopause, is the transition into menopause. It usually starts in a woman’s mid- to late-40s. Perimenopause lasts on average for four years but some women may enter perimenopause up to 10 years before experiencing their last period.
During perimenopause, you may experience symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness, even if you’re having regular periods.
Keep in mind it’s still possible to get pregnant during perimenopause because you’re still ovulating (1). You can still get pregnant even if you skip your period for a few months, according to The North American Menopause Society (2). If you don’t plan on growing your family, keep using a form of birth control. The National Institutes of Health (3) recommends using contraceptives for at least 12 months after your last period.
What is the average age of menopause?
Menopause, the middle phase, is actually more like the middle pause. You “reach” menopause when it’s been 12 months since you’ve had your last period.
The average age of menopause in the United States is 51 years old (4). It occurs most often between ages 45 and 55, but can be different for every woman.
Once you reach menopause, you’re now in the third and longest phase, postmenopause, which you’ll be in for the rest of your life. The good news is that you can relax because the roller-coaster of changes is now behind you, and you’re a little stronger and a little wiser.
What is early menopause?
If you reach menopause before age 40, regardless of the cause, it’s known as premature menopause. If you reach menopause before age 45, it’s known as early menopause.
There are a few reasons why you may experience premature and early menopause:
- You have a family history of premature or early menopause.
- You’ve undergone medical intervention, including chemotherapy, radiation, oophorectomy (removal of ovaries), and hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).
- You have premature ovarian failure, which is when the ovaries don’t release enough estrogen or release eggs regularly.
- You started your period before age 11 and have never been pregnant or given birth (5).
- You’re a smoker (6).
About 1 percent of women will experience premature menopause. About 5 percent of women experience early menopause.
As you can see, there’s no “normal” when it comes to menopause and our individual experiences. Your menopause journey will be different from your best friend’s, your cousin’s, your co-worker’s — so let’s start the conversation and do this, together.
Kaunitz AM. Oral contraceptive use in perimenopause. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2001;185(2 Suppl):S32-7.
Contraception: You Need It Longer Than You May Think. Accessed February 22, 2019.
What Is Menopause? National Institute on Aging. Accessed February 22, 2019.
McKinlay SM, Brambilla DJ, Posner JG. The normal menopause transition. Maturitas. 1992;14(2):103-15.
Mishra GD, Pandeya N, Dobson AJ. Early menarche, nulliparity and the risk for premature and early natural menopause. Hum Reprod. 2017;32(3):679-686.
Whitcomb BW, Purdue-Smithe AC, Szegda KL. Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Early Natural Menopause. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(4):696-704.