There’s no set age when menopause should start, but usually a woman will enter menopause in her mid-40s to mid-50s. Menopause that occurs before a woman is in her mid-40s is known as early or premature menopause. If a woman is 55 or older and still hasn’t begun menopause, doctors would consider it late-onset menopause.
According to the Center for Menstrual Disorders and Reproductive Choice, the average age for menopause is 51. Menopause can often last well into a woman’s 50s. Late-onset menopause refers only to the age at which menopause begins.
A study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders notes that late menopause isn’t uncommon among obese women. This is because fat can produce estrogen. A doctor will likely suggest that a patient lower her body mass index (BMI) to below 30. Ideally, a woman’s BMI should fall between 18.5 and 24.9. Maintaining a normal BMI can help reduce a number of health risks and prolong a woman’s life.
Thyroid disorders can disrupt the timing of menopause, causing it to be early or late. The thyroid is responsible for regulating metabolism. If the thyroid isn’t working properly, it can have a number of effects on a woman’s reproductive system. Some symptoms of a thyroid disorder are similar to menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings. This can lead a woman to believe she might be experiencing menopause. If you feel as if you’re experiencing menopause but continue to menstruate, speak to your doctor. They may determine that you have a thyroid problem, and can treat the condition.
A woman can experience late-onset menopause if she has abnormally high levels of estrogen throughout her lifetime. Talk to your doctor about this possibility.
A doctor will also consider a woman’s family health history. For example, if a woman’s mother experienced late-onset menopause, she may also experience it.
Pregnancy and late-onset menopause
While it’s rare, women are still able to conceive and give birth in their early 50s. This can delay menopause because a woman’s body adjusts to the hormonal changes that pregnancy brings. Any pregnancy has an enormous impact on a woman’s hormone levels. If a woman in her 50s experiences a pregnancy, it will also affect her hormones.
A woman should be aware that until she goes 12 full months without having a menstrual cycle, she may still be able to get pregnant. Doctors use the 12-month marker to make the official determination that a woman is in menopause.
Effects of late-onset menopause
Unlike early and premature menopause, late-onset menopause can actually have some major health benefits. According to the Cleveland Clinic, menopause causes a decline in the production of estrogen and progesterone by a woman’s ovaries. This can often signal problems such as osteoporosis. The longer a woman’s ovaries produce hormones, the longer it will delay osteoporosis.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology states that there’s an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer in late-onset menopause. This is due to the lengthened amount of time a woman’s body is producing estrogen. Regular mammograms, Pap smears, and gynecological exams are especially important for women experiencing late-onset menopause.
Any woman still experiencing a menstrual cycle in her late 50s and 60s should see a doctor. However, it’s important to note that each woman’s reproductive system is different. Just as each young woman starts menstruating at a different age, menopause comes at a different age for each woman. Noting the risk factors and staying on track with annual gynecological exams should help allay any concerns that may arise with late-onset menopause.