While most women report symptoms such as hot flashes and mood changes, menopause is different for everyone.
For example, the average age of menopause — marked by 12 months since a woman’s last period — is 51, with most women experiencing symptoms between 45 and 55. But that’s only the average. Sometimes, women will enter menopause as early as in their 30s.
If you think you know everything about menopause, think again. Here are some important facts about menopause that you may not know, according to experts.
#1: Your family history helps predict when you'll enter menopause
Knowing when your mother started menopause is a good yardstick for figuring out when it might happen to you. “If you come from a family of women that tend to have early menopause like having had your last period in your early 40s, which means that that period menopausal transition will start in your 30s, that has huge implications for your long term health,” Dr. Sharon Malone, an ob-gyn and chief medical officer at Alloy Women’s Health, tells Yahoo Life.
However, Malone cautions that your family history is an estimate, so you could experience menopause earlier or later than that. “We only have 50% of the genes from our mothers,” she says. “So it’s a good guidepost. But not something I would bank on.”
#2: Menopause plays a role in weight gain
Women gain an average of five pounds during menopause, and that’s mainly because of a combination of hormonal changes and aging. Malone explains that women tend to gain one pound per year because metabolism slows down as you get older. But when you gain weight while transitioning into menopause, low estrogen levels cause the weight to primarily occur in your midsection.
“Belly fat is much more toxic than gaining it in [other areas of the body] because it increases the risk of cardiovascular events and type 2 diabetes,” explains Malone. “A lot of inflammatory changes come from weight gain that accumulates in the middle.”
Women going through menopause also have trouble sleeping, and disrupted sleep can contribute to weight gain. A small 2021 study found that treating sleep problems during menopause could decrease a woman’s risk for menopause-related fat storage and weight gain.
#3: Menopause can affect your vision
Dr. Sameena Rahman, a gynecologist and women’s health specialist at the Center for Gynecology and Cosmetics, tells Yahoo Life that vision problems during menopause are made worse by aging’s own effects on sight. “Aging itself leads to some deterioration of the eye and can bring about its own issues around glaucoma and other retinal issues,” she says.
According to the North American Menopause Society, eye shape can change slightly around menopause, affecting vision and making it more uncomfortable to wear contact lenses for those who rely on them.
But Rahman points out that the most common eye issues during menopause are dry eye and blurred vision. Research shows that the hormonal changes that occur with menopause can lead to dry eye disease — a condition where eyes don’t have enough lubrication. Dry eye disease affects nearly twice as many women as men over age 50.
#4: You can still carry a baby while in menopause
Once you enter menopause, you no longer have a period. However, a woman can technically carry a baby to term through in vitro fertilization using a donor egg or by “using stored eggs from when you were in your 30s or early 40s,” explains Malone, along with hormonal therapy to support the pregnancy.
That said, research shows postmenopausal women are more likely to experience pregnancy complications than premenopausal women, so it’s important to work with a fertility expert who has experience with postmenopausal women trying to conceive.
#5: Menopause can cause you to be more forgetful
As estrogen levels go down approaching and during menopause, some women notice a sharp cognitive decline known as brain fog. Research shows that women can experience “increased forgetfulness” during this transition into menopause.
Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an ob-gyn and chief medical officer for Bonafide, tells Yahoo Life, however, that there are many other reasons women undergoing menopause may experience mental fogginess or are more forgetful during the day. Hot flashes, insomnia or other sleep disturbances brought on by menopause are a recipe for sleep deprivation or low-quality sleep, which can impair your ability to focus and retain information.
Dweck says that increased feelings of anxiety and depression that some feel going into menopause can also contribute to brain fog. Rahman agrees, adding that brain fog is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause and can cause a lot of distress for women in midlife who are at the peak of their careers or raising a family. “These women are used to multitasking when all of a sudden they can't remember the word that’s trying to come out of their mouth or remember what something is called,” she says.
#6: Early menopause may increase your risk for dementia
There may be a link between early menopause and a higher risk for dementia later in life. A 2022 study found that women who experienced menopause before age 45 had a 35% increased risk of developing dementia. They also were 1.3 times more likely to have dementia symptoms before 65.
Research also suggests that surgical menopause — an operation to remove the ovaries and end menstrual cycles — before the age of 45 increased a woman’s risk for dementia.
However, there is some good news: Rahman says that estrogen therapy can help slow the progression of dementia in certain populations. “Estrogen has a protective effect for patients with dementia,” she says.
This story was originally published on June 7, 2022. It has been updated for World Menopause Day, Oct. 18, 2022.
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