Menopause

Introduction

The menopause, also known as the 'change of life' is the end of menstruation.  This means a woman's ovaries stop producing an egg every four weeks. She will no longer have a monthly period or be able to have children.

In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 52, although women can experience the menopause in their 30s or 40s.

If a woman experiences the menopause when she is under 45 years of age, it is known as a premature menopause. 

Menstruation (monthly periods) can sometimes stop suddenly when you reach the menopause. However, it is more likely that your periods will become less frequent, with longer intervals in between each one before they stop altogether.

What causes the menopause?

The menopause is caused by a change in the balance of the body's sex hormones.

In the lead up to the menopause (perimenopause) oestrogen levels decrease, which causes the ovaries to stop producing an egg each month (ovulation). Oestrogen is the female sex hormone that regulates a woman's periods.

Read more about what causes the menopause

The fall in oestrogen also causes both physical and emotional symptoms including:

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • mood swings
  • vaginal dryness

Read more about the symptoms of the menopause

Should I see my GP?

You should speak to your GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you.

Although there is no definitive test to diagnose the menopause, a blood test to measure the level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) may sometimes be recommended.

Treating the menopause

Most women do not need treatment for the menopause. However, treatments are available if symptoms are severe and interfere with day-to-day life.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the main treatments for the menopause. It helps to relieve menopausal symptoms by replacing oestrogen.

HRT is available in many forms including tablet, creams or gel, a skin patch or an implant.

Read more about treatments for the menopause

Self-help

Many women find that making changes to their lifestyle and diet helps improve menopausal symptoms. Taking regular exercise, reducing stress levels and avoiding certain foods can help reduce hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings.

Read more self-help tips for managing the menopause

Last updated: 30 January 2014

Continue to next section: Symptoms of the menopause