I’m always surprised when I hear women refer to the change in their period patterns and the onset of other accompanying physical and emotional symptoms as being “in menopause”.
It is a commonly held misbelief that menopause is a lengthy period of time that women experience in their forties and fifties when they have hot flushes, erratic periods and raging moods. However menopause is actually the day that marks the point when a woman has been without a period for a full twelve months.
The years of hormonal change that lead up to menopause are called perimenopause, and the time following menopause is called postmenopause.
The average age of menopause
The average age women reach menopause is 51. But anywhere between 45 and 55 is considered normal. Menopause that takes place before age 40 is called ‘premature menopause’ and before 45 it is called ‘early menopause’.
Are you approaching menopause?
So how do you know if you are approaching menopause? The average length of the perimenopausal stage is 4 years. But it can last from only a few months up to 10 years. So if we’re talking averages, the average age of starting perimenopause is 47. But it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms from around age 40 on.
There are many physical and emotional changes that take place in the years leading up to your periods finally stopping. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate dramatically during this time and symptoms come in waves. Some women experience very few problems and seem to sail towards menopause whilst around 20% have moderate to severe symptoms that can be so significant they are life altering.
The stages of perimenopause
If you are in the 40+ age group and starting to experience irregular cycles that vary in length by 7 days or more you are most likely in the early stage of perimenopause. When you start to skip periods completely and you have a 60 day cycle you are entering the later stage. It is not uncommon to skip a period then go back to regular cycles for a while.
The symptoms of perimenopause
The ‘official’ list of perimenopause symptoms below is those generally recognised by the medical fraternity. The ‘unofficial’ list consists of some (and there are many more) of the other commonly reported symptoms by women going through perimenopause that are often not officially recognised by the medical fraternity but are very real to those experiencing them.
The official list:
- Irregular periods – longer or shorter cycles
- Heavier or lighter bleeding
- Extreme tiredness
- Hot flushes / night sweats
- Problems with sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vaginal dryness / itching
- Low sex drive
- Breast tenderness
- Itchy dry skin
- Increased pre-menstrual tension
- Irritability / sadness / anxiety
- Urine leakage / urgency
- Weight gain, especially around the middle
The unofficial list:
- Extremely heavy periods
- Passing clots
- Lethargy and feelings of fogginess
- Muscle cramps
- Heart flutters / palpitations
- Food cravings
- Increased facial hair
- Adult acne
- Watery discharge
- Abdominal bloating
- Constipation / diarrhea
- Slow digestion / flatulence
- Weak finger nails
- Strange vibrating sensations in the body
Things to remember as you approach menopause
Your ovaries are coming up to the time when they will no longer produce eggs, but during perimenopause they sometimes can release two eggs in one cycle. You can still get pregnant! Don’t forget to continue to use contraception right up until you haven’t had a period for a full twelve months.
A great way to track what is going on is to use a phone app to log your cycles and symptoms. Over time you can spot patterns and learn more about what your body is doing. I recommend Clue period tracker for its great interface and ease of use: https://helloclue.com/
Every woman’s experience of menopause is as unique as she is. There are no right or wrong types of menopause. If you aren’t coping you should seek help as there are many treatments, both conventional and complementary, that can assist greatly.
Resources and links for further reading: