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MENOPAUSE: WHAT'S HAPPENING
How Long Will Menopause Last?
Apr. 27, 2022
You’re likely eager to know when it will all be over. Listen to this expert intel and reassuring advice.
“I thought menopause would be a hellish year or so of hot flashes, then…boom! Done!” says Wendy, 53, a production manager in Indianapolis. “But now, even though I haven’t bought tampons in over a year, I still feel as if I am deep in it.”
She has a point: So much attention in popular culture focuses on reaching the moment of menopause, defined as having been without a menstrual period for a full year. But that “one year without” milestone only tells part of the story.
The stages of menopause
Menopause is part of the flow of a woman’s reproductive life, says Kourtney Sims, M.D., a board-certified integrative gynecologist based in Houston, TX, certified member of the North American Menopause Society, and Phenology’s Chief Medical Advisor. “When you have menstrual cycles, you are in the reproductive stage of your life, which has early, peak, and late phases. Then you cross into the menopausal transition, which also has phases. After one year without your cycle, you enter the post-menopausal phase, which is the rest of your life,” Dr. Kourtney explains.
“It’s important to have perspective on the stages of your reproductive development and be cognizant that menopause doesn’t just hit out of the blue,” continues Dr. Kourtney. “That gives women more agency and understanding.”
One quick and easy way to figure out where you are in your individual menopause journey—and the best ways to manage potential symptoms—is with the Phenology Assessment. This industry-leading assessment takes two minutes and can help you see how far along you are in your menopause journey and help you better manage your transition through actionable personal insights. It's based on the STRAW+10, the gold standard of studies that assesses reproductive aging in research and clinical contexts.
What should I expect in perimenopause?
“Let me check my (menopause) calendar.” Okay, so let’s break it down: The lead-up to menopause, aka perimenopause, occurs as your body tapers off production of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. This typically occurs over about four years.
Given that the average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can do the math: Your late 40s is primetime for perimenopause, barring any ancillary factors that would send you into this state prematurely, like surgeries or illness.
Your cycle typically starts to change. “You’ll see up to a seven-day difference in your cycle,” says Dr. Kourtney, and other symptoms may occur. “As a specialist, it’s important to let women know that their experience is very individual. A constellation of signs exists,” she says. “There are hot flashes and night sweats (known as vasomotor symptoms); the skin gets dryer, there’s vaginal dryness, possibly decreased sex drive and orgasmic reactions. Some women report brain fog, a decrease in memory processing, and a susceptibility to depression.” (Take a closer look at symptoms and early signs of menopause here.)
Dr. Kourtney shares an on-point analogy: “No two women are the same. It’s as if we all go shopping at the perimenopausal store, but each woman picks up a different symptom and puts it in her basket.”
In part, women’s menopausal experiences are also shaped by many highly personal factors: “Lifestyle, sleep, stress, genetics, toxic load, and nutrition all play a role,” says Dr. Kourtney. As you move further along in the transition, your periods may show wider swings. Your cycle might skip a couple of months, and then return. Some symptoms may ebb; others may step in later in the game.
Because perimenopause can last for years, it's important to be as healthy as possible going into this time period, as well as transitioning through it. Dr. Kourtney advocates for a holistic and integrative approach to perimenopause, using lifestyle, holistic and traditional therapies in different ways for different women. As part of a holistic therapy, Dr. K recommends her patients practice yoga or other forms of daily movement, take in optimal nutrition and get in the habit of healthy routines that take the whole person into account.
Not sure where to start on a wellness improvement journey? Consider talking to a nutritionist. You can chat one-on-one with a Registered Dietitian trained in menopause-related topics by downloading the Phenology app. This gives you the chance to ask an empathetic professional about how your nutrition, wellness, hydration and lifestyle can affect your symptoms, and get real answers via text-based chat.
Can menopause symptoms last past your periods?
Eventually, you’ll be at that moment when you haven’t had a period for a full year, and you are officially at menopause. That anniversary of your last period isn’t something that gets celebrated in our culture, but perhaps it should be. Well done! You have completed the reproductive stage of your life and are now entering the post-menopausal years. Think of it, perhaps, as a retirement party. Your ovaries are getting a well-deserved rest!
Intriguingly, though, your body is still adjusting to its bold new world without the hormones it had for the last few decades. So even though you have moved through menopause, the symptoms may last another few years—quite likely for another three years, says Dr. Kourtney.
Some signals may last longer still: One study published in Obstet Gynecol found that hot flashes could stretch well past perimenopause and continue for a median of just over 10 years.
“There are estrogen receptors from head to toe. Hormones interact with every single system in your body—from your ears to your eyes; from your brain to your bones to your bladder,” says Dr. Kourtney. “As your body adjusts to not having those hormones plug into the same receptors as in the past, your cells and systems are learning how to function in new ways.” That takes some time to stabilize, and then, says Dr. Kourtney, the symptoms tend to lift.
How to have the best menopause experience
So, seen through this lens, a woman’s experience of gliding towards menopause can take several years. Having symptoms for four years prior and four years after is not uncommon, though shorter or longer time spans are common, too.
As you play the hand that nature has dealt you, know that there’s much you can do to manage symptoms that interfere with your quality of life.
“It’s important that a woman gets individualized care and has a conversation with a trained healthcare professional who understands menopause,” says Dr. Kourtney. She suggests checking the website of the North American Menopause Society to find a certified menopause practitioner.
In addition, Dr. Kourtney, who is also a member of the American Herbalist Guild, says she believes clinical herbalists can be very helpful. “Some women want a natural or holistic approach (rather than explore hormone replacement therapy options with an MD). For that community, the American Herbalist Guild has a directory of registered herbalists. They can recommend, say, a tea, herb, or supplement to support you through your journey.” She adds that yoga, massage, and acupuncture can be very supportive as women move through menopause.
And don't feel like you have to go through this alone. Besides chatting one-on-one with a Phenology Coach in the Phenology App, talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits of naturally-powerful ingredients in supplements. For example, saffron and genistein is a combo that, consumed as part of a daily regimen as in this daily supplement routine, can reduce stress and anxiety, support positive mood and better sleep, and reduce frequency and duration of hot flashes.
Whatever your individual menopause experience is like, and however long the symptoms may last, know that it is part of your life’s story—not just a passage but a phase that is as unique and valuable a human experience as any other.
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