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Menopause FAQs: An Introduction to Menopause

Menopause marks the end of the childbearing phase of a woman’s life that began with puberty. If you’re concerned about menopause, it’s time to get educated. The first step in understanding menopause is to learn what it is, what it’s not, and how it may affect you. NAMS experts answer your most frequently asked questions about menopause.

Q. What is menopause?
A. First off, menopause is not a disease. Menopause is a normal, natural event—defined as the final menstrual period and usually confirmed when a woman has missed her periods for 12 consecutive months (in the absence of other obvious causes). Menopause is associated with reduced age-related functioning of the ovaries, resulting in lower levels of estrogen and other hormones. It marks the permanent end of fertility. Menopause occurs, on average, at age 52. It occurs most often between the ages of 40 and 55. Some women can reach natural menopause in their 30s, and a few as late as their 60s.

Q. What is premenopause?
A. The term premenopause refers to the phase of life that precedes menopause.

Q. What is perimenopause?
A. The gradual transition between the reproductive years and menopause is called perimenopause (meaning around menopause). It is generally a transition lasting many years and can be associated with shorter menstrual intervals, irregular menses, hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms. In some women, these symptoms are troublesome enough to require medical intervention.

Q. What is postmenopause?
A. Postmenopause includes all the years beyond menopause. For many women, it is an optimal time to reassess their health.

Q. Now that my periods have stopped, can I discontinue contraceptives?
A. Even though menstrual cycles become irregular or even stop, women in perimenopause can still get pregnant unless they have taken steps not to get pregnant. It’s advisable to use birth control until 1 year after the final menstrual period.

Q. How will I know when menopause is over?
A. Menopause is considered over with the final menstrual period. However, women don’t know that they’ve had their final period until 12 months later, when looking back they can see that it was in fact their last period. It is uncommon for women to start having periods again after not having them for 12 months. And, although the bleeding may stop, symptoms can go on for months or even years. How long a woman’s symptoms will last cannot be predicted.

Q. How can I find a menopause specialist?
A. The North American Menopause Society maintains a search feature on this website for those women in the United States or Canada who are looking for an expert interested in helping them manage their health through menopause and beyond. Healthcare providers who have passed a competency examination leading to the prestigious credential of NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner (NCMP) are noted in the displayed results.

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