Menopause Phases: The FAQ's
As you reach midlife, you know its coming – menopause. If you aren't familiar with the various phases of menopause and what to except in each, we've put together a run-through on the basic definitions, symptoms and management.
Menopause is a life stage and a natural part of aging. It represents the time where women stop having a monthly period and the reproductive years come to an end. The typical age this occurs can vary but usually happens in the late 40's to mid 50's.
While medical conditions can bring on “sudden” menopause, this life change usually doesn’t happen overnight but instead comes on gradually. To help you navigate the changes and the most common questions of naturally occurring menopause, here are the most popular FAQ’s and medical sources to check out for more information.
Your Menopause FAQ’s
Premenopause, Perimenopause, Menopause, Postmenopause – What’s the Difference?
Premenopause – is the period of your life BEFORE menopause when you show no symptoms of either perimenopause or menopause.
Perimenopause – this is the phase where you begin to display symptoms of menopause which can include changes in period cycle, mood swings, hot flashes, and disturbances in your sleep among others. These symptoms occur because the ovaries are gradually producing less estrogen. According to Cleveland Clinic, you can enter this stage up to 10 years before menopause as early as your 30’s. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women, it only lasts a few months.
Menopause – is the point when you no longer have a monthly period and haven’t had one for a consecutive 12 months. The ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen.
Postmenopause – this is the phase after menopause. The symptoms of menopause usually subside by this point, but because of the changes in your hormones women can be at risk for other medical condition such as heart disease, osteoporosis or depression and other mental health conditions. Experts recommend visiting your doctor for advice on how to manage these risks and to schedule screenings.
When Do Perimenopause and Menopause Typically Naturally Happen?
According to the North American Menopause Society, the most common average ages for menopause break down like this:
- Most women will experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, with the average age being 51.
- Perimenopause typically begins four to eight years before menopause. It starts with irregularity in monthly periods and ends one year after the final menstrual period.
Of course, everyone is not typical; some women experience perimenopause as early as her 30's and others late 50's. There are also medical conditions or surgeries that can induce menopause earlier like the removal of the ovaries.
What Are the Typical Symptoms of Perimenopause?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common symptoms of perimenopause include:
Irregular periods – this can include changes in the frequency or length of time between periods, changes to the flow (heavier or lighter) and you may even skip some periods. The Mayo Clinic says, “If you have a persistent change of seven days or more in the length of your menstrual cycle, you may be in early perimenopause. If you have a space of 60 days or more between periods, you're likely in late perimenopause.”
Hot flashes – one of the most talked about symptoms. A hot flash is usually sudden over-heating of the body which can include sweating. The intensity, length and frequency can vary.
Sleep problems – often caused by hot flashes during the night called "night sweats."
Mood changes – becoming irritable or experiencing depression may occur.
Decreasing fertility – an obvious symptom but as ovulation becomes irregular your ability to conceive decreases. However, as long as you still have a period you can get pregnant.
Vaginal and bladder problems – as estrogen levels decline it leads to vaginal atrophy (your vaginal tissues become drier, thinner and may lose elasticity) and means you may become more susceptible to vaginal infections and intercourse can become painful.
Loss of bone – when estrogen declines you can start to lose bone more quickly than you replace it (i.e., the risk of osteoporosis).
Facial acne – you may find you experience new breakouts specifically on your jawline and forehead. This new acne can be deeper than acne in your teens and hard to eliminate. Read our article "Skin Deep for Every Age" for more on this.
Changes in cholesterol levels – changes in estrogen may also cause changes in your blood cholesterol levels increasing the “bad” cholesterol and decreasing the “good” cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease.
What Can Bring Menopause On Early?
When menopause occurs outside of the typical age range (late 40's through the 50's) it is considered premature menopause. Typically this is the result of either surgical intervention (like the removal of the ovaries), damage to the ovaries (like chemotherapy) or a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency.
When Should I See A Doctor?
Technically menopause requires no medical attention. Instead, it focuses on methods to alleviate the symptoms. That said, anytime you have questions, or if your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, you should visit your doctor. There is a range of treatments from natural supplements to prescribed medications.
What Are the Typical Symptoms of Menopause?
The symptoms of menopause are those in the years leading up to full menopause in "perimenopause" (listed above).
What Happens In Postmenopause?
In postmenopause many if not all of the symptoms you may experience in perimenopause usually calm down or go away altogether. However, according to the Mayo Clinic risks can increase for cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, sexual function and weight gain.
How Do I Manage the Symptoms?
There is a range of treatments for the symptoms of menopause, some are natural and some prescribed. All of the experts agree it is best to be proactive when managing menopause. Talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing (even if your symptoms are not severe) and build a plan. If you are not already, begin a regular exercise routine, follow healthy eating, regulate the amount of sugar and alcohol you take in and stop smoking – these lifestyle changes are the most significant things you can do to stay fit and healthy in the next phase of your life.
The Mayo Clinic offers a list of prescribed treatments, dietary supplements and lifestyle changes by symptom you can research and discuss with your doctor.
The North American Menopause Society provides a menopause guide you can order.
Diving into the symptoms and changes of menopause can be overwhelming and worrisome. However, understanding the changes to come and being proactive is your best opportunity to manage the process well. Also, it isn’t all bad – once you hit postmenopause you can look forward (yes, we said “forward”) to:
- No more periods, PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or risk of pregnancy
- Hormones settle down, and so does your mood
- Facial skin clears
- You may experience as the experts call it - “menopausal zest” a burst of energy many women experience postmenopause both physically and psychologically - the perfect thing for ageless women!