While there is no set age when menopause occurs for every woman, the mid-40s to mid-50s is the traditional time for regular menopause to occur. Menopause that occurs before a woman is in her mid-40s is considered early or premature menopause. If a woman is 55 or above and still has not reached menopause, she is probably should be seen as being late.
It should be noted that the average age for menopause is 51 and menopause can often last well into a woman’s 50s. Late-onset menopause refers only to the age at which menopause begins.
Statistically, about one out of twenty women have late menopause (after age 55), so the stated conditions is not very rare.
Late menopause is not uncommon among obese women, since fat can produce estrogen. A doctor will likely suggest a patient get her body mass index below 30. Ideally, a woman’s BMI should fall between 18.5 and 24.9 to be at a normal weight, but with late menopause, the lower the BMI the better. Maintaining a normal BMI can help alleviate a number of health risks and prolong a woman’s life.
Thyroid disorders can disrupt the timing of both menopause and menstruation in menopause, causing it to be early or late. Since the thyroid is responsible for regulating metabolism, when it malfunctions, it can have a number of effects on a woman’s reproductive system. Some of its symptoms may also be mistaken for menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings, leading a woman to believe she might be experiencing menopause without cessation of menstruation. In this case, a doctor may consider other symptoms of thyroid problems to determine if treatment is necessary.
If a woman has abnormally high levels of estrogen throughout her lifetime, she may experience menopause later in life. High estrogen levels can also bring about a condition called estrogen dominance, which comes with its own set of health risks, so it is important that this be discovered and treated.
A woman’s family health history will be taken into consideration when she sees her doctor regarding this issue. If a woman’s mother or grandmother also had late-onset menopause, she may as well.
Intelligence has a part in this as well. Believe it or not, higher cognitive levels in childhood have been connected to later menopause in women. There is no known reason for this.
Multiple pregnancies can also be a cause of late menopause, although it is not to be assumed that a woman who has had multiple pregnancies will undergo menopause late.
Pregnancy and Late-Onset Menopause
While it is still rare, women are giving birth in their early 50s more than ever before. This can delay menopause, as a woman’s body adjusts to the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy. While it is rare for a woman over 50 to conceive and not miscarry, any pregnancy at all has an impact on the woman’s hormonal level.
A woman should be aware that until she has passed the twelve-month mark with no menstrual cycle, she will still be able to get pregnant. The twelve-month marker is used by doctors to make the official determination that a woman has entered menopause.
Risks with Late-Onset Menopause
Unlike early and premature menopause, late-onset menopause can actually have some major health benefits. Because menopause occurs with a decline in the production of estrogen and progesterone by a woman’s ovaries, it often signals such problems as osteoporosis and heart problems. When a woman’s ovaries produce these hormones longer, osteoporosis and heart problems seem to also be delayed. Because of this, women with late-onset menopause actually tend to live longer. A recent study by the Naval Medical Center in San Diego also indicated that the later the menopause, the less cognitive decline later in life.
There is an increased risk of breast cancer, however, due to the lengthened amount of time a woman’s body is producing estrogen. Researchers have also pinpointed an increased risk for cervical neoplasia, the changes in cancer cells that can signal the onset of cervical cancer. Pap smears detect the presence of these cells and can catch them early enough to prevent progression into cancer. Regular mammograms and pap smears are especially important for women experiencing late-onset menopause.
Another substantial health risk is for ovarian cancer. This risk is particularly strong if your beginning of menstruation was relatively early, and if the body had no breaks from estrogen exposure through pregnancy and breastfeeding, according to the May 2010 National Cancer Institute's Guidelines for Risk Evaluation. As they claim, this group of women is at particular risk from late menopause. These women have cumulative risks started with an early start of menstruation, before age 12. They never had a full-term pregnancy despite repeated attempts to conceive using fertility medications, and then they went into menopause late. If they also carry the genetic predisposition for ovarian cancer, their risks might be even higher.
While any woman who is still experiencing a menstrual cycle in her late 50s and 60s should see a doctor, it is important to note that each woman’s reproductive system is different. Just as each young woman starts menstruating at a different age, menopause falls at a different age for each woman, as well. Noting the risk factors and staying on track with annual gynecological exams should help allay any concerns that may arise with late-onset menopause.
Sources and Additional Information: