CAN I PREDICT WHAT AGE I'LL REACH THE MENOPAUSE?
As they approach their mid-forties, many women find themselves looking for signs of the menopause and trying to figure out when it will begin for them. Since most women reach the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, this is a perfectly normal concern to have at this stage of your life, but as every woman is unique, your experience of the menopause may be completely different from the next person.
Your genes, ethnicity, and lifestyle all factor into when the menopause will begin for you. There is no method currently available to give you an absolute answer, but calculating the age a woman may reach the menopause is a growing area of scientific research. Year on year, more tests and indicators are being discovered, and researchers are making more progress towards finding the formula that could effectively be a reliable menopause age calculator. In the meantime, we’ve provided a little more insight into the factors we already know of which can contribute to when a woman reaches the menopause below.
Why does the menopause happen?
The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to it as the permanent cessation of menstruation as a result of the loss of ovarian follicular function. It is a completely natural process that every woman goes through in her lifetime, though exactly when she will go through it will depend on her background and lifestyle.
What is the average age a woman stops menstruating?
In the UK, the average woman reaches the menopause at 51 years of age, though it can range from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties. When it begins before the age of 45, it's often referred to as early menopause, the menopause transitional phase or perimenopause "around menopause". If symptoms become full blown before 40, it's also known as premature menopause. There are many factors that may influence when it will begin for you, starting with the all-important element of your genes.
What factors influence the age you reach the menopause?
One of the most accurate factors that can help predict the age you will reach the menopause is the age your mother reached the menopause. Research has conclusively revealed a strong link between the menopause and genetics, and there is an approximately 50% chance that you will become menopausal at the same age as your mother or within a few years of that age.(1) However, this may not always be the case.
Sometimes there are genetic anomalies that can cause one female family member to reach the menopause much earlier or later than the others; for example, if your mother reached it at 45 but your grandmother and aunts reached it at 55, you may not be able to accurately predict whether you will take after your mum or the other women in your family. (2) In some cases, it may seem that you are the apparent black sheep, though this could be due to non-genetic factors too.
Your ethnicity, or where you originate from, is also a factor that can help determine when you will reach the menopause. Studies that had been conducted since the early 2000s have often shown that while the average age for Caucasian women in the UK and US is around 51, various ethnic groups have a slightly different average. For example, according to some studies, the average age Hispanic, African American, and West and South Asian women reach the menopause can be 1-3 years earlier, whereas for women of Japanese and Chinese descent the average age is a little later. The reason for this variation is that women of different ethnicities often have different levels of oestrogenic activity, which in turn affect their average menopausal age and symptoms. (3)
Can your lifestyle affect the age you reach the menopause?
Sometimes, you may find yourself showing signs of the menopause much earlier than your mother or other women in your family. This could be due to a number of non-genetic reasons, such as your lifestyle, diet, and physical condition.
We all know by now that smoking is not a healthy habit no matter who you are — but it has particular health impacts for women. Smoking has been found to be the number one avoidable lifestyle factor relating to early menopause, due to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in cigarette smoke which are toxic to ovarian follicles. These chemicals can cause a premature loss of ovarian follicles, leading to an earlier onset of the menopause.
Another factor is that smoking could lead to faster breakdown of oestrogen in the liver, which in turn results in an earlier decline in smokers' oestrogen levels.3 While many studies have shown that smoking may cause the onset of the menopause to occur around 2 years earlier than average for women who are smokers, a 2014 study by a leading US university suggests it may occur as many as 9 years earlier for some women who are heavy smokers. But don’t lose hope if you are a smoker, as studies have also shown that women who quit smoking by the age of 40 were often able to erase many of the negative impacts it may have had on their overall health.4
Body Mass Index
Another factor which could influence when you reach the menopause could be your Body Mass Index (BMI). A study conducted by an Australian university last year has shown that women who are underweight or have a low BMI are more than 50% more likely to enter the menopause early, while women who are overweight or have a high BMI are more likely to experience a late menopause. This is due to the fact that oestrogen is stored in fat cells, and women who have been underweight for some time will have fewer oestrogen stores and those stores will be depleted quicker. (4)
Having a baby
There is a major link between childbearing and menopause. If a woman does not give birth to any children, she may experience an earlier menopause, whilst having many children or a late first pregnancy may result in a later onset.3 Basically, if you have children, your body may naturally extend its window of fertility to encourage further reproduction (which, biologically speaking, is its reason for existing).
Other lifestyle- and health-related factors that research has shown may affect the age of onset of the menopause include the use of oral contraceptives (which may delay onset), insufficient sun exposure throughout one's life, and conditions such as hypertension (both of which may hasten onset). If you are someone who has always had irregular menstrual cycles, you may experience a later menopause. Undergoing procedures such as a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) or an oophorectomy (surgical removal of one or both ovaries) will also affect when the menopause begins for you.
So, is there a menopause age calculator?
The answer to this question is: possibly. In the last decade or so, research into the Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) has indicated that it could be an accurate predictor of when a woman may cease to ovulate. In a nutshell, a woman's AMH levels indicate the number of follicles present in her ovaries and, unlike follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, don't fluctuate with her menstrual cycles, which means they can be used to determine the extent of her ovarian reserves and thereby when they would run out. This is not considered a fully conclusive test, but is a simple procedure that may help give you a better understanding of your situation. There are, however, some tests which may be able to tell you whether you are perimenopausal or menopausal.
All of the factors we've discussed above could help you determine the age you can expect to enter the menopause, but there is no definitive test to tell you the exact age you will reach the menopause for the moment. In the meantime, if you have any concerns, it never hurts to talk to your doctor about it.
To discover more advice on how you can better navigate your journey through the menopause, simply visit our Menopause Guide.
- Ceylan, Burcu and Özerdoğan, Nebahat, Factors affecting age of onset of menopause and determination of quality of life in menopause, Turk J Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Mar; 12(1): 43–49. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5558404/
- WebMd, When Will You Reach Menopause?. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/menopause/features/menopause-age-prediction#1
- Ellen B. Gold, The Timing of the Age at Which Natural Menopause Occurs, Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2011 Sep; 38(3): 425–440. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285482/
- University of Queensland, Obesity, smoking, and risk of vasomotor menopausal symptoms: a pooled analysis of eight cohort studies (2019). Available at: https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(19)31370-5/pdf
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