Menopause is when a woman stops having periods. It is a natural part of ageing.
Periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop. Sometimes they can stop suddenly. In some women, periods can become very heavy in the year coming up to menopause.
When menopause starts
Menopause usually starts between the age of 45 and 55. The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51.
Early menopause happens when your periods stop before the age of 45.
But around 1 in 100 women experience menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature ovarian insufficiency. If you experience menopause before 45 years of age, this is called premature or early menopause.
Symptoms of menopause
Symptoms usually start several years before your periods stop. This is known as perimenopause. Symptoms can also last for some time after your periods stop.
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of these can be severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities.
The length and severity of these symptoms can vary from woman to woman. Every woman experiences menopause differently.
When to contact your GP
Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if :
- you have menopausal symptoms that are worrying you
- you're experiencing symptoms before age 45
- your periods have stopped for a year or more before age 45
Your GP can usually confirm if you're menopausal based on your symptoms. If you are under 45, they may take a blood test to check your hormone levels.
If you have a serious medical condition, your GP may refer you to a specialist clinic to help manage your menopausal symptoms.
HRT and other treatment
Talk to your GP if you're finding your symptoms particularly difficult. They will be able to help you and can recommend treatments.
Treatment may include:
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – tablets, skin patches, gels and sprays that help menopausal symptoms by replacing oestrogen
- vaginal oestrogen cream, tablets, or pessaries
- lubricants or moisturisers for vaginal dryness
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a type of talking therapy that can help with low mood and anxiety
- eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly - this can improve some menopausal symptoms
Your GP may refer you to a menopause specialist if your symptoms do not improve after treatment or if you cannot take HRT.
Causes of menopause
As you get older there is a change in the balance of the body's sex hormones. This change causes menopause.
It happens when your ovaries produce less oestrogen and no longer release an egg each month.
Premature or early menopause can happen at any age, and often there's no clear cause.
Sometimes it's caused by:
- a treatment such as surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy)
- some breast cancer treatments
- chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- an underlying medical condition, such as Down's syndrome or Addison's disease
Contraception and menopause
Hormonal contraception can affect your periods so you cannot know for sure if you have reached menopause when you're on the contraceptive pill.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE