Menopause 101

Understanding menopause, its stages, and its implications are crucial for every woman. It's a natural phase of life, but knowledge, support, and effective treatment can make this journey smoother and more manageable.

Perimenopause marks the transition leading up to a woman's last menstrual cycle, signifying the slowdown of the ovaries. This phase typically spans 4 to 6 years but can vary significantly, lasting just a year for some or extending to a decade for others. When a woman ceases to have monthly periods entirely, she's entered menopause. This major milestone is confirmed as post-menopause exactly 12 months after the last period.

While the ages between 45 and 55 are the most common for women to enter menopause, the average age is around 51 years. The cessation of periods during menopause indicates that no eggs remain in the ovaries, ending ovulation. This transformative period, while natural, can profoundly influence a woman's physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being due to fluctuating hormones like oestrogen and progesterone.

It's worth noting that menopause can also be a direct result of certain surgical or medical procedures. Alarmingly, there's a glaring gap in the discussion about menopause in families, communities, workplaces, and even in healthcare environments. This lack of conversation often leaves women unaware that some symptoms they're experiencing are tied to menopause.

According to the World Health Organisation, the global population of postmenopausal women is surging. In 2021, women aged 50 and above constituted 26% of all women globally, a rise from 22% a decade prior. Astoundingly, about 80% of women will face menopausal symptoms, with 20% encountering moderate to severe hot flushes or night sweats. In Australia alone, half of the women in their early 50s report significant symptoms, yet only a fraction (15-20%) are on effective treatments.

Menopause is an undeniable part of a woman's life journey. Whether it's manifesting as symptoms or other physical changes, its impact is universal. Hormonal shifts are the primary culprits behind these symptoms. Yet, it's important to remember that each woman's experience is unique—symptoms may differ in timing and intensity. Women undergoing their final period between ages 40-45 are classified as experiencing early menopause, while those under 40 face premature menopause.

As women navigate post-menopause, many symptoms, such as hot flushes, tend to lessen or vanish. However, postmenopause also brings a heightened risk for cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis. Importantly, while weight gain can be associated with menopause, it's often more related to lifestyle choices and natural aging processes rather than solely menopausal hormonal changes.