Five menopause myths you need to know

The truth about 'the change' and what it means for you

tired senior woman resting her face and hands laying down on cushions for comfort and relaxation

Think you know everything there is to know about the menopause? Here are five common myths that might just surprise you...

See also: Night sweats: What causes them and what you can do

See also: Five ways the menopause affects your sex life

1. Menopause always starts in your 50s
The average age for menopause is 51, but some women are 55 before their periods stop - and others can be 45. In fact, early menopause can happen any time after the age of 40. And for a small number of women it can happen as early as the 30s or as late as 60.

2. The menopause means lighter periods
You might think that your periods will get lighter before they stop. While that's true for some women, it's not always the case. Some women find that their periods become heavier and more painful as they approach the menopause. Unlike puberty, your periods don't just stop one day – menstruation patterns can change for several years before they finally end.

3. Hot flushes only last a year or so
According to a 2016 study published in the journal Menopause, symptoms affect women differently. While research suggests that 70% of women will experience hot flushes and/or nightsweats, they can start at different stages, and last for varying amounts of time.

Some women are "early onset" hot flushers and begin to experience symptoms as many as 11 years before their last period. Other women may not have their first hot flush until after their last period.

"We used to think these symptoms lasted from three to five years, right around the time of the final menstrual period," said senior researcher Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D. "We now know that these symptoms persist for far longer--typically seven to 10 years--and occur at different times for different women."

4. Menopause symptoms are physical
Most women might complain about night sweats and hot flushes, but the menopause can cause emotional changes as well as physical ones. Anxiety, low mood and sleep problems are linked to hormonal changes – and shouldn't be discounted if you're at that time of life.

Most medical experts agree that the benefits of HRT (if used for no more than five years) far outweighs the risks. NICE guidelines have changed in recent years to encourage doctors to prescribe HRT to women who are struggling with menopausal symptoms. So if your GP thinks your low mood is caused by the menopause, don't be surprised if they prescribe you HRT rather than antidepressants.

5. You can throw away the contraception
Some, but not all women, find that the menopause lowers their sex drive – not helped by vaginal dryness. But at least there's some good news - you don't have to use contraception anymore, right?

Actually, you should keep on using contraception during the early stages of menopause as it may be that your periods are still changing. Experts recommend waiting at least 12 months from your last period before throwing away your contraception.