Let’s be honest, when you’re dealing with menopause and everything that comes with it, it can seem like it lasts forever! It may feel that way, but it does, in fact, end at some point. It’s understandable why people don’t know how long of a process menopause can be. What representations of menopausal women do we see in our lives and the media? Probably not very many. You may see a hot flash or a mood swing used to fuel a joke on a television show or in a movie. You may have had a relative who went through menopause during a time you were around to witness some of it. Since most of the process of menopause is an internal one, you may have missed the signs of someone else going through it entirely, or not recognized them for what they were. In fact, menopause is such an internal process and is so unique from woman to woman that it’s very possible a woman could be years into the process of menopause and not realize it. It’s no wonder there’s such confusion about how long it lasts.
Most people believe that menopause only lasts a few years in much the same way puberty did. They may even think of it as an “event” more than a “process.” That can make sense if you think of female puberty as the event of getting a period and that’s it. That’s not a very realistic view of puberty, though, nor is “not getting a period anymore” a very realistic view of menopause. The fact is that menopausal process can last far beyond a decade from beginning to end. That is a LOT of life, but it is the fact.
How long did puberty last? Was there any break between puberty and menopause?
Lots of women find themselves wondering why they didn’t take notice. If we define puberty as that period of life when our bodies change from a child body to an adult body that is capable of reproducing, it becomes clear why we didn’t take notice of a set start date and end date that would have given us a definite timeline. A lot of the changes that happen are internal changes that go on without our knowledge. Changes that are external or that result in signs we may have noticed happen slowly over extended periods of time. We don’t go to bed one night with pudgy, rectangular child bodies and wake up the next morning with body hair, longer limbs, wider hips, breasts and more angular adult faces. Overall, the process of moving through puberty usually takes about three years. Now that doesn’t mean that at the end of three years, all of the hormones are back on solid footing and that you won’t ever again have fluctuating hormones to deal with (and the pimples and mood swings that go with them). It just means that the body and the reproductive system have matured. There is still more growing and changing to do, but your body is now capable of reproduction. Starting the process is apparently much easier than stopping the process.
Much like the onset of puberty, the onset of menopause does not descend one day and then stick around for a specific time. As a matter of fact, early menopause is practically free of signs, just like early puberty was. Hormone levels fluctuate a bit and sometimes that may result in a skipped menstrual cycle. In the beginning, this happens only rarely. A period might be missed followed by many months of regular menstrual cycles leading to another skipped period.
It is rare that women in the very early stages of menopause have any of the menopausal signs we see portrayed in the media, and we have come to associate with menopause.
She is not likely to suffer from night sweats, hot flashes or even any noticeable mood swings. We all have mood swings, but the menopausal mood swings are much more pronounced and happen with greater frequency. We may not see them for what they are, however, and are more likely to attribute them to increased stress at home or work than we are to attribute them to early menopause. Women may be well into their menopausal process and not be aware that it’s even started. To those women, a process that, in reality, takes more than a decade may only seem like it took a year or two. Other women may have bodies that send stronger signals or show more visible signs and so they are more aware of the process. Whatever your individual experience is, you can consider your menopausal process pretty much over when you’ve gone a full year without a menstrual cycle.