How do I know if I'm experiencing menopause?

Until you have gone an entire 12 months without a period, you are not officially in menopause, but many symptoms appear earlier. Watch for irregular periods or especially light or heavy periods. These changes can happen before menopause actually occurs. Also, as estrogen levels begin to lessen, you may notice some vaginal dryness or, most commonly, hot flashes.

Menopause is considered the absence of a period for one year. Symptoms can vary greatly from minor to severe. Symptoms include irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, moodiness, difficulty sleeping and vaginal dryness.

You will know you've reached menopause when you haven't had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. You will likely reach the milestone of menopause during your 50s. The average age of menopause for US women is 51, with most women reaching menopause somewhere between ages 45 and 55.

If you're not quite there yet, periods may be few and far between. Hot flashes, one of the most common menopausal symptoms, may be making you uncomfortable. And you may notice that your skin is thinner and dryer now.

While sun exposure over the years is mostly responsible for changes in your skin's appearance—more wrinkles and brown spots, for example—declining estrogen levels can cause the lining of your vagina to be thinner and drier as well. That's why sexual activity for some women at this life stage can be uncomfortable or painful.

Estrogen decline during menopause can contribute to short-term memory loss and problems with word recall. Its effect on the brain also is the source of hot flashes, trouble sleeping and decreased serotonin levels, which can affect your sense of well-being.

It's important to remember that each woman experiences menopause in her own way—while some don't seem bothered by symptoms, other women may feel miserable and overwhelmed by them. There are a wide variety of lifestyle changes and treatment options to help you manage menopausal symptoms, so don't give up!

Dr. Wendy Warner, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

When 12 consecutive months pass without a period, women can consider themselves menopausal. Usually, they experience symptoms such as hot flashes, feeling flushed, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Other symptoms include memory loss, achy joints, changes in skin and hair, and sleep disturbances. Keep in mind that other medical conditions can cause these same symptoms, so don’t blame everything on menopause. See your care provider to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Typical symptoms include hot flashes or flushes, insomnia, weight gain and bloating, mood changes, irregular menses and headache. Symptoms may begin during perimenopause and continue for 5 to 10 years after menopause.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

It's important for women over 40 to know how to recognize menopause. Very simply, menopause is a clinical diagnosis based on not having had a period for 12 consecutive months, provided there's no other reason, such as being pregnant or nursing.

The average age for menopause onset is 51. Women have menopausal symptoms beforehand if they undergo menopause earlier or experience perimenopause—an approximate 2- to 10-year time span of having periods along with some menopausal symptoms.

Common symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause include missed periods, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, forgetfulness, low libido and mood swings. Sleep disturbances, an often-overlooked symptom, also are common.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.