When is my menopause?

It’s a question many women wonder about, especially if you’re thinking about planning a family and your 20s are but a distant memory.

Here’s what does — and does not

influence the age at when a woman reaches menopause.

The Top Factor

There are a number of factors that affect a woman’s age at menopause, but one is more important than any other: the age her mother experienced menopause.

This isn’t always true, of course. Some women reach menopause at an unusually early age — before 45 or so — with no known cause, which could be the result of an inherited issue or a one-time genetic mutation. “These can be random events, but can also be passed on,” says Howard Zacur, MD, PhD, who directs the reproductive endocrinology and infertility division at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Your mother’s age at menopause is a key factor, but not the only one. Here are four others to consider:

  • Smoking – No other lifestyle factor does more damage to your ovaries than smoking.
  • Chemotherapy – Most forms of chemotherapy used in younger women are at least mildly toxic to the ovaries. Many women go through temporary menopause while undergoing chemotherapy; if cycles do return (they don’t always), you can still expect to reach regular menopause a couple of years earlier than you otherwise would have.
  • Ovarian surgery
  • “Certain ethnic groups may have menopause at slightly different ages,” says Santoro. “Hispanic and African-American women reach menopause a little earlier, and Chinese and Japanese women a little later, than the average Caucasian woman, who reaches menopause at about age 51.5.” Those are averages; every woman is different.

Here are three things you might think would influence menopause age, but don’t:

  • Age at first period – Although the average age of menarche (onset of first menstrual period) has been getting younger in U.S. women, there hasn’t been a corresponding shift in the average age at menopause. The average age at menarche is now about 12.4 years old, down from 13.3 in women born prior to the 1920s, but the average age at menopause has been around 51.5 for decades.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Use of hormonal birth control methods
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