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Medically, menopause is the cessation of menstruation and signifies the inability to bear children. It is determined as one year from the last menstrual cycle. Menopause is a natural life-stage transition. Medical events, like surgery or chemotherapy, however, can also produce menopause.
Menopause is a natural transition that will affect every woman. By the year 2020, it is estimated that there will be 62 million American women reaching menopause. Most of these women will spend one-third to one-half of their lives postmenopause.
No changes in life expectancy or general health have affected the age at which menopause occurs. The average age of onset of natural menopause is 51, with a normal range between 48 and 58. There are women who experience it as early as 35 and as late as 60. Eight percent of women stop menstruating before age 40, and 5% continue to have periods until they are near 60. Usually, there is an underlying factor to extremely early or late menopause.
Attempts at defining factors that can predict age of onset have not been successful. It is clear that heredity and smoking seem to be linked to the timing of menopause. A mother's age at menopause may indicate when her daughter will cease menstruation, though this is not a hard- and-fast rule. If a mother entered puberty late and her daughter had her first period at an early age, there may be no correlation. The mother may have experienced poor nutrition as a child or had an hormonal deficiency or some other medical condition to delay puberty.
Smokers enter menopause as much as 1.5 years earlier than non-smokers. Other determinants can be number of pregnancies, body mass, depression, chemical exposure, and exposure to pelvic radiation as a child. Women who have had children, have larger body mass, and who had higher cognitive scores as children may enter menopause later. Conversely, women who never had children, are depressed, were exposed to toxic chemicals, or had pelvic radiation usually have an earlier menopause.
There are four types of menopause. The most prevalent is natural, spontaneous menopause. Premature (spontaneous), surgical, and induced menopause occur because of a medical condition, a surgical procedure, or other outside cause.
Author Info: Janie F. Franz, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, 2002
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