Menopause, sometimes referred to as “the change of life” is the time in a woman’s life when she stops menstruation. Since menopause is a natural occurrence in the female body, all women experience menopause at some point in their lives, typically between the ages of 45 and 55 (median age 51). Menopause is considered to have arrived when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months (without any other identifiable physiological or biological cause) and is brought on by a decrease in the ovarian production of estrogen and progesterone.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), while life expectancy has increased over the years, the age of menopause has not changed during the past few centuries. ACOG reports that no link has been found between the age of natural menopause and use of oral contraceptives, socio-economic or marital status, race, or age at menarche. Cigarette smoking (even former cigarette smoking) can cause a woman to reach menopause two years prior to women who never smoked.
Perimenopause, meaning “around menopause,” is the period of time that leads up to the last menstruation and menopause. Perimenopause typically starts when women are in their 40s but may happen as early as the 30s. During this time, women may experience menstrual irregularities, menstruation without ovulation (release of the egg), and symptoms similar to those of menopause (hot flashes, vaginal dryness, etc.)
A report about menopause released by ACOG in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, stated that an estimated 6,000 US women reach menopause every day. Due to America’s aging population, the number of women who will be older than 55 is estimated to be 46 million by the year 2020.
ACOG also noted that with increasing life expectancy, many women will spend up to 40% of their lives in the postmenopausal stage. Half of all women who reach age 50 will live to be at least age 80.