Menopause, sometimes called “the change of life,” happens when a woman stops having monthly periods. It’s usually diagnosed when you’ve gone a year without a menstrual cycle. After menopause, you’ll no longer be able to get pregnant.

The average age for menopause in the United States is 51, according to the Mayo Clinic. But menopause can happen to women throughout their 40s and 50s, too.

Read on to learn more about how your menopause age affects your health.

There’s no simple test that can tell you when you’ll reach menopause, but researchers are working on creating one.

Examining your family history may be the most accurate way to help you predict when you might experience the change. You’ll likely reach menopause around the same age as your mother and, if you have any, sisters.

Before you experience menopause, you’ll go through a transitional period, known as perimenopause. This phase can last for months or years, and usually starts when you’re in your mid-to-late 40s. On average, most women experience perimenopause for about four years before their periods stop completely.

Your hormone levels change during perimenopause. You’ll likely experience irregular periods along with various other symptoms. Your periods may be longer or shorter than normal, or they may be heavier or lighter than usual. Additionally, you might skip a month or two between cycles.

Perimenopause can also cause the following symptoms:

Symptoms vary from woman to woman. Some don’t need any treatment to relieve or manage their symptoms, while others who have more severe symptoms do need treatment.

Menopause that occurs before age 40 is called premature menopause. If you experience menopause between ages 40 and 45, you’re said to have early menopause. About 5 percent of women go through early menopause naturally.

The following can increase the likelihood you’ll experience early menopause:

  • Never had children. A history of pregnancy may delay menopause age.
  • Smoking. Smoking can cause menopause to begin up to two years earlier.
  • A family history of early menopause. If women in your family started menopause earlier, you’re more likely to as well.
  • Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation. These cancer treatments can damage your ovaries and cause menopause to start sooner.
  • Surgery to remove your ovaries (oophorectomy) or uterus (hysterectomy). Procedures to remove your ovaries may send you into menopause right away. If you have your uterus removed but not your ovaries, you might experience menopause a year or two earlier than you would have otherwise.
  • Certain health conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, and some chromosomal disorders can cause menopause to happen sooner than expected.

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of early menopause, talk to your doctor. They can perform various tests to determine if you have entered menopause.

A newly approved test called the PicoAMH Elisa test measures the amount of Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) in the blood. This test helps determine whether you will soon be entering menopause or if you already have.

Experiencing early menopause has been linked to a shorter life expectancy.

Studies have also found that going through early menopause may increase your risk of developing certain medical issues, such as:

But starting menopause earlier may have some benefits, too. Early menopause may lower your risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.

Studies have shown women who go through menopause after age 55 have about a 30 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who experience the change before age 45. Experts believe this increased risk happens because women who undergo menopause later are exposed to more estrogen throughout their lifetimes.

There’s no sure way to delay menopause, but some lifestyle changes may play a role.

Quitting smoking may help postpone the onset of early menopause. Here are 15 tips for quitting smoking.

Research has suggested that your diet can affect the age of menopause, too.

A 2018 study found consuming a high amount of oily fish, fresh legumes, vitamin B-6, and zinc delayed natural menopause. However, eating a lot of refined pasta and rice was linked to earlier menopause.

Another 2017 study found consuming high amounts of vitamin D and calcium may be linked to a lower risk of early menopause.

Continue seeing your doctor regularly during perimenopause and menopause. They can help ease any concerns you might have about this pivotal change in your life.

Questions to ask your doctor might include:

  • What treatments are available to help my symptoms?
  • Are there any natural ways to relieve my symptoms?
  • What kinds of periods are normal to expect during perimenopause?
  • How long should I continue to use birth control?
  • What should I be doing to maintain my health?
  • Will I need any tests?
  • Where can I find more information about menopause?

It’s important to see your doctor right away if you have any vaginal bleeding after menopause. This may be a sign of a serious health problem.

Menopause is a natural part of aging. You can expect to experience this change around the same time your mother did.

While menopause can cause some unwelcome symptoms, there are many treatments that can help. The best approach you can take is to embrace your body’s changes and welcome this new chapter of life.