Menopause: How Long Does It Last

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: June 25, 2010

I have a little secret to share. I found the perfect hot flash hideaway. I inadvertently stumbled upon it last week as I was shopping for frozen pizzas of all things. The frozen food aisle at my grocery store is my new home for hiding from the heat of my hot flashes. It is a place to escape, a place to take your time to walk through, a pleasurable spot to say ahhhh. While I’m very happy to finally find a safe sanctuary to shake the surges out of my system, I can’t help but wonder how long is this hot flash thing going to last?

After doing a little research, I am quickly realizing there is no definitive answer to this question. The pace of menopause is different for everyone. Sure, you can go to the doctor and get several lab tests but, they won’t necessarily tell you how far along you are. In fact, there really isn’t a single test that predicts or confirms menopause stages or status. Doctors usually rely on physical examinations, family history and other lab tests to assess your menopause.

Blood and urine tests measure hormone levels to indicate menopause. In general, the lab tests doctors use look for low estrogen levels in the bloodstream and high levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Both are expensive tests (about $100 each) that are not always covered by insurance and that are usually inconclusive. Think of them as tests to determine if your symptoms (i.e., hot flashes, irregular periods, etc.), are a part of menopause. They are qualitative– not really tests to tell you if you are definitely in menopause.

Home tests are available as well but aren’t recommended for self-diagnosis. They are questionable products. Buyers beware! Some tests offered on the internet are illegal and are being sold without FDA’s knowledge. Learn more about what the FDA has to say about home-tests.

So, is the end near?

Experts say menopause can last anywhere from 4 to 5 years and the hot flashes can stick around for even longer. The good news is, they usually taper off shortly after 5 years as estrogen levels tend to steady off. Although some women may experience their first hot flash at age 42 and won’t reach menopause until age 55.

Perimenopause is the transitional phase leading up to menopause that usually begins three to five years prior to a woman’s final menstrual period. This stage is characterized by fluctuating hormone levels. For this reason, you may experience your worst symptoms in this time leading up to menopause (premenopause or perimenopuase). Women begin noticing the changes in their bodies due to declining levels of estrogen. Menstrual changes and short-term physical symptoms (similar to menopause symptoms) are common.

You’re not technically in menopause until you haven’t had your period for 12 consecutive months. If you’re not sure if you’ve quite reached that point, the best way to estimate where you are in the transition is to keep track of your periods. Start a calendar for the next few months and keep track of your menstrual activity. Mark on your calendar the days you’re spotting and the days you’re bleeding. A visit to your doctor can help you sort through your symptoms and lay out your options for relieving them.

Well, it’s back to the frozen foods aisle for me. Instead of continually wondering when it is all going to be over, I’m shifting my attitude. I’m learning to accept my situation more and adapt to my menopause a little better. I’m quickly learning there are a lot of things I can do to improve my health and symptoms through altering my diet and exercise. A lot of women are in the same boat and are having similar experiences with symptoms – hot flashes, sleep problems, sex issues, etc.

Talking to other women, sharing experiences and educating yourself is so very, very important. You may learn what your best friend uses for hot flash relief may not necessarily cool you off but whatever your menopause experience is now or becomes later, learn to embrace it and take charge of your symptoms. It will make the journey a lot less difficult, especially if you try the frozen foods aisle.

References

Menopause Basics, Menopause Guidebook: Helping Women Make Informed Healthcare Decisions Around Menopause and Beyond; The North American Menopause Society, 2006, pp. 3-6

How Long Does Menopause Last, netWellness, March 3, 2006

Does Menopause Last Long?, buzzle, August 11, 2006.

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