Although most women report symptoms such as hot flashes and mood changes, menopause is different for each individual.
For example, the average age of menopause (marked 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period) is 51 years, and most women experience symptoms between the ages of 45 and 55. But this is an average. Sometimes women reach menopause as early as their 30s.
If you think you know all there is to know 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 mom will start menopause is a good measure to use to determine when it will happen to you. “If you come from a family of women with early menopause, say your last period was in your early 40s, that means the menopause transition will start when you’re in your 30s, which can have a big impact on your long-term health,” Alloy Women’s Health’s OB/GYN and chief medical officer Dr. Sharon Malone told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Malone cautions, however, that your family history is only an estimate, so you may experience menopause earlier or later. “We only get 50 percent of our genes from our mothers,” she says. “So that’s a good signpost. But not something I would count on.”
#2: Menopause plays a role in weight gain
Women gain an average of 5 pounds during menopause, largely due to a combination of hormonal changes and aging. Women tend to gain a pound a year because metabolism slows down as we age, Malone explains. However, when you gain weight as you enter menopause, low estrogen levels cause the weight to appear primarily in your abdomen.
“Belly fat is much more toxic than getting it in [other parts of the body] because it increases the risk of cardiovascular events and type 2 diabetes,” Malone explains. “Many of the inflammatory changes come from the weight gain that accumulates in the middle.”
Women going through menopause can also experience sleep difficulties, and disrupted sleep can lead to weight gain. A small study in 2021 found that treating sleep problems during menopause can reduce a woman’s risk of 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, told Yahoo Lifestyle that vision problems during menopause can be made worse by the effects of aging itself on vision. “Aging itself can cause eye degeneration and can lead to glaucoma and other retinal problems,” she said.
According to the North American Menopause Society, the shape of the eye can change slightly around menopause, affecting vision and making contact lens wear more uncomfortable for those who rely on them.
But the most common eye problems during menopause are dry eye and blurred vision, Rahman noted. Studies show that the hormonal changes that occur during menopause can lead to dry eye – a condition in which the eyes are not sufficiently lubricated. Dry eye affects almost twice as many women as men over the age of 50.
#4: You can still carry a baby while in menopause
Once you reach menopause, you no longer have periods. However, technically, women can conceive through in vitro fertilization using donor eggs or “using eggs stored in their late 30s or early 40s” while using hormone therapy to support pregnancy.
That said, studies have shown that postmenopausal women are more likely to experience pregnancy complications than premenopausal women, so it is important to work with a fertility specialist who has experience with postmenopausal women trying to conceive.
#5: Menopause can cause you to be more forgetful
As estrogen levels decline near menopause, some women notice a dramatic decline in cognitive abilities called brain fog. Research suggests that women experience “increased forgetfulness” as they enter menopause.
However, women experiencing menopause may experience mental fog or more forgetfulness during the day, among many other reasons, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an OB/GYN and chief medical officer at Bonafide, told Yahoo Lifestyle. Menopause-induced hot flashes, insomnia or other sleep disorders are causes of sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, which can impair your ability to focus and retain information.
Dweck says the increased feelings of anxiety and depression that some people feel as they enter menopause can also lead to brain fog. Rahman agrees, adding that brain fog is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause and can cause a lot of pain for middle-aged women at the peak of their careers or raising a family. “These women are used to multitasking at the same time because they suddenly don’t remember the words that want to come out of their mouths or don’t remember what something is called,” she said.
#6: Early menopause may increase your risk for dementia
There may be a link between earlier menopause and a higher risk of developing dementia later in life. A 2022 study found that women who experienced menopause before the age of 45 had a 35% increased risk of developing dementia. They were also 1.3 times more likely to develop dementia symptoms before age 65.
The study also showed that menopausal surgery – surgery to remove the ovaries and end the menstrual cycle – before age 45 increases a woman’s risk of developing dementia.
However, there is some good news: Rahman says estrogen therapy can help slow the progression of dementia in certain populations. “Estrogen has a protective effect on people with dementia,” she says.