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Just as our bodies changed during puberty and we began to menstruate, so again—usually at midlife—we transition from our reproductive years to the natural end of monthly menstrual cycles. The transition usually begins in our forties and ends by the early fifties, although any age from the late thirties to sixty can be normal.

People commonly use the word “menopause” to mean different things, which can lead to confusion. Many women say, “I’m in menopause” to mean they’re somewhere in the months or years from the first night sweat until periods have stopped for good. Technically, the time from the first signs of your cycle changing to your final period is called perimenopause, while menopause is the literal moment of the final menstrual period. But because periods are usually sporadic as we approach menopause, a woman is said to have reached menopause only after she has not had a menstrual period for twelve months.