Mothers And Mapping Your Menopause

A menopausal mother being kissed on the cheek by her daughter, with a big smile on her face.

There are many things we'd like the ability to predict – the lottery numbers would be a great starting point if we had a crystal ball!  Predicting the age at which an individual will start menopause is another thing that's really useful for a woman to know so that she can start planning supplements to take, make changes to the exercise she does, and read up about HRT for that conversation with her GP.  Fortunately, mapping your menopause is something that can be done, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy depending on a few environmental factors.

Many studies have been conducted into the link between the age of menopause of mothers and daughters, and it is generally accepted that the age at which someone starts menopause will be in line with (or a year either side of) that of her mother and other female relatives.  In the UK, the average age to start menopause (that is, when three periods in a row have been missed) is 51.  While genetics plays a big part in mapping the age and expected duration of menopause in any one individual, there are several environmental factors to account for.

Smoking is one of the biggest factors in changing the age at which someone reaches menopause.  If your mother was a smoker but you aren't then you can expect to reach menopause a couple of years later than she did.  By the same token, if your mother wasn't a smoker, but you are then you're likely to arrive at menopause a couple of years ahead of schedule. 

If you don't know when your mother started menopause and you're not able to find out it is worth asking other female relatives about their experiences if that's an option for you.  Maternal aunts and sisters are the most useful sources of advice as menopause age inheritance runs through the maternal side.  It is worth remembering that early menopause can be something that runs in families, but it can also be triggered by many things including chemotherapy and ovarian or uterine surgery. 

If early menopause was experienced by several members of your family, and this wasn't linked to medical interventions or drugs then it is more likely that you will also experience early menopause.  If, however, early menopause in your mother or older female relative was due to chemotherapy or surgery then there is no reason to think you will also experience the same.  It is these two factors (chemotherapy and ovarian surgery) alongside smoking, that can trigger menopause to start earlier than expected.

There are a couple of factors that many people assume will affect the age at which we start menopause that actually make no difference – the age at which someone starts menstruating is the biggest false factor.  Data has been collected for decades around the age at which someone starts their period and when they start menopause, and while the average age to start menstruating has dropped, no change has been seen in the average age to start menopause.

Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the use of hormonal birth control have also been investigated and found not to affect the age at which menopause starts.  It's true that people taking hormonal birth control may not realise they are in perimenopause because of the masking effect of the birth control, but it will not delay or stop menopause from starting. 

If you're wondering when you can expect to start menopause, ask your mother and/or older female relatives as their experience will usually be very similar to yours.  The severity of symptoms won't necessarily be the same, however, and you may benefit from different treatments, supplements and strategies – in short, it's not your mother's menopause even though it is likely to start at roughly the same age.

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