Technically speaking, menopause is the point when menstruation stops completely, marked by a year passing since your last period, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s during perimenopause—the transitional period leading up to the end of menstruation—when symptoms usually begin.
And these symptoms can continue through menopause and into postmenopause—sometimes for a decade (or longer) after your last period, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
- Alexa Mieses Malchuk, MD, MPH, a board-certified family medicine physician and District Medical Director at One Medical in North Carolina
- Samuel Mathis, MD, a board-certified family medicine doctor and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch
- Divesh Goel, MD, board-certified family medicine doctor
- Period changes: For many people, periods tend to be similar month after month. During perimenopause, though, that changes: Periods may be shorter or longer, heavier or lighter. Plus, you may skip a period or several.
- Hot flashes: While they may be short, lasting mere seconds or up to 10 minutes, hot flashes are uncomfortable. During one, you’ll feel hot and flushed, and your skin may get blotchy. Once the hot flash passes, you may feel sweaty or chilled. (Good news: There are natural remedies for hot flashes, including the straightforward tactic of drinking cold water as a hot flash kicks in.)
- Changes to your body: This includes incontinence, weight changes, and possibly headaches and other aches and pains throughout your body. Sleeping well can also become more challenging (in part due to night sweats, aka, nighttime hot flashes).
- Mood changes: You may find you’re quick to get irritated or feel more moody.
- Vaginal and libido changes: Decreasing estrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness. This, in turn, can lead to painful sex. And, speaking of sex: You may find your libido has shifted, and you may desire sex more (or less) than before.
Another common menopause symptom: brain fog, or issues with focus and memory, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Perimenopause typically begins between the ages of 45 and 55, according to the NIA. As for how long it lasts, estimates are broad and varied.
For instance, according to the NIA, perimenopause lasts between seven and 14 years. The Office on Women’s Health, on the other hand, estimates two to eight years. And the Cleveland Clinic says symptoms stick around for four years, on average.
So, while four years may be a good ballpark for how long to expect your menopause symptoms to last, it’s possible they’ll last far longer (or, more optimistically, may ease up far sooner).
For our Real Talk Rx series, we asked readers to send us their biggest health questions and then posed the most common to a panel of doctors. We found many readers wondered how long menopause symptoms would last (or, more to the point: when menopause symptoms would end). Here's what the experts had to say.
How long do menopause symptoms last?
"As soon as a person starts to experience menopause symptoms, they should talk with their family physician, no matter how long they've had them. We do have treatments for all the different symptoms that people may experience. So for example, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, weight gain, mood changes—this is not something that people necessarily have to suffer through."
"We don't have a set timeframe for menopause—it's totally individualized. The normal onset of menopause is after age 45, with the typical age around 51. It can last six months, a year, a couple years …or even longer than that.
The most common side effects are hot flashes, which most people want to end sooner rather than later.
There are good therapeutic interventions that are safe for most [people]. If you use hormone [therapy], we like to give that therapy within 10 years of the onset of menopause, and we recommend three to five years of use. Beyond that, we might suggest lifestyle modifications or testing for other hormonal deficiencies."
"This question is a little tough to answer because some patients never stop having menopause symptoms, so they may have hot flashes for the rest of their lives.
But in general, if the symptoms are severe enough that it’s causing significant disruption to their life, they should talk with their doctor about options to help manage those symptoms."
There's no set timeline for menopause symptoms, which can last from months to years, extending into postmenopause. Our expert panel, as well as reputable online health resources, shared a wide range of estimates about the duration of symptoms.
This may all sound a bit vague—and dire, if you’re finding these symptoms disruptive to your sleep, sex life, and daily life in general—but know that treatments, such as hormone therapy, are available and can help. Talk to your health care provider about your options.
Confused about your health? Get answers to more common questions in our Real Talk Rx series.
—reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH
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